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How to Talk to Your Teenager About Weight--Or Maybe You Shouldn't Talk to Your Teenager About Weight

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

Perhaps you have noticed that your teenager has gained weight over the past months. Maybe you are thinking about confronting them to get them to lose weight. I want to strongly caution against talking to your child about their weight and telling them to lose weight, and here is why.

girl looking into a mirror

Why is Your Teenager's Weight a Concern for You?

Consider why their weight is an issue to you. Are concerned about how they appear to you or others? Are you worried about their health? Have they mentioned any of their own concerns about their weight to you?

If your concern is from an esthetic standpoint, then you're best bet is to say nothing and embark on some internal work on your views of beauty. Make sure you are not projecting your views of beauty onto your child.

If you are concerned about their health, your first discussion should be with your child's pediatrician. Ask if your child should be screened for any health conditions that are associated with higher weight. Find out if your pediatrician has any health concerns about your child. If there are health concerns, then the discussion with your teenager should be about their health, and not their weight. In general, focusing on weight as the important outcome is not only unhelpful, but also potentially harmful. While weight is often viewed as a visual indicator of lifestyle, it is not a behavior or a choice. A discussion that is focused on health rather than weight still needs to be done with sensitivity, and that topic requires its own article.

If your teenager is distressed about their size or is getting bullied about their weight, then a thoughtful discussion with your child about their weight and body may be helpful. This conversation should never involve telling your child that they will be better looking if they lose weight or that losing weight will stop the bullying. Rather, the goal of the conversation can be to start to normalize that people have all different sizes and physical characteristics that make them different. It's best to convey a clear distinction between beauty and health concerns. We want our kids to feel and believe they are beautiful--regardless of their weight or any other physical characteristic. Choosing to make behavior changes for health is a completely separate issue that can occur regardless of weight.

When to Talk to Your Teenager About Their Weight and Body

Waiting until your child is a teenager is a bit too late to start the conversation about the value and beauty of their body. We need raise our children with the belief that they are beautiful, handsome, good looking, and any other positive words you like to use to describe them.

This starts from the first moments you talk to them. Parents love cooing to their babies about how cute they are. While the adjectives parents use may change as children get older, they should still be used frequently. A simple "you are gorgeous" or "you look so handsome" lets a child know that they are truly good looking.

Teaching your child how to care for their bodies also shows them their bodies are important. Showing your child how to neatly brush their hair, cut their nails, and even choose clothing helps them learn to care for their bodies because their bodies are valuable.

Children also learn from what they see and hear. Do they hear their parents disparage their own bodies, or do they hear their parents talk about their bodies positively? Are they consuming media that focuses on narrow beauty ideals? What values do the people around them promote?

Some may question this approach as it values physical characteristics and not internal character. In reality, this is not antithesis to valuing internal character. You can raise your children to both believe they are beautiful and to have beautiful character. Some might say that valuing one's own self is a prerequisite to the character it takes to build relationships.

Talking to your teenager about their weight and their body in general should start when that teenager is a baby. If you're past the baby stage, you have a lot of work ahead of you. But start that now--don't let any more time pass you by.

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