While there are many factors that go into a weight problem, self-esteem is one of the most complicated. Low self-esteem can lead to overeating and idle-inducing depression, which can lead to weight gain, which can lead to even lower self-esteem. It’s a vicious cycle. What can a parent do to help?
The most important thing you can do is to let your teen know what you DO like about him, and what he is doing well. Be generous, but always authentic, with your praise; teens have a sensitive “sincerity meter” and they can tell when you’re not being truthful.
Make sure your teen knows that her weight is not who she is. There is more to her than the numbers on the scale.
If she has always wanted to try a new activity but is waiting for the magical day when she’ll be “thin,” encourage her to go ahead and do it anyway. Don’t let your teen put off life waiting to lose weight; it’s counterproductive.
Teach your teen to use positive statements about himself, and to avoid negative ones. “I’m a good friend” is an example of a positive statement. “I’m so fat, everyone hates me” is an example of a negative statement. You would never talk to your teen like that; don’t let your teen talk to himself like that.
The absolute WORST thing you can do is to ridicule or shame your teen into losing weight. It doesn’t work. It makes things worse. We cannot emphasize this enough. All you are doing by using those tactics is destroying your relationship with your teen, and damaging your teen’s already-fragile self-esteem. All that does is feed into the vicious cycle we talked about above.
Instead of talking to her about fat or thin, encourage your teenager to focus on behaviors which will promote a much healthier weight. Talk to your family doctor, and he will help to set realistic goals for your teenager with regard to body mass index, and the weight they should be based on their age, height and general health.
Being overweight does not always lead to a lifetime of low self esteem, but your acceptance of your teen’s weight problem is critical.