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Body Image and Teens

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, March 05, 2013

A lot is made of the media's obsession with thinness.  And it's true -- the media is obsessed with the thin and the beautiful.  But at the same time that we, as a culture, prize those among us who are skinny, we have a rising number of kids who are overweight.

It's no longer newsworthy to describe the increase in obesity amongst our kids.  But to put it in perspective, here are a few statistics: Between 1981 and 1996, the prevalence of overweight boys rose from 15% to 35.4%.  That's more than double!!  And in the same time range, the prevalence of overweight girls rose from 15% to 29.2%.  Not quite as high a jump, but still alarming.  (These stats came from the Public Health Agency of Canada web site.)

It's a tough balance for parents: how do we promote a healthy lifestyle and body image, while at the same time inoculating our children and teens against the onslaught of super-skinny models and celebrities?

I wish I had the answer.  One thing I know will help for sure: cut the phrase "Does this make me look fat?" out of your own vocabulary.  Kids pick up on our neuroses, and if you constantly scrutinize your own weight, I guarantee your daughter will catch the "bug" from you.

As usual, contrary to all outward appearances, parents are extremely influential in their teens' lives.  Who knew?

...And if you're worried about your pre-teen's sudden weight gain, consider this: it isn't uncommon for kids this age to put on a few pounds practically overnight.  It seems to be the body's way of preparing for the growth spurt that happens in adolescence (did you know that kids double their weight between ages 10 and 16?  Wow!).  Take a proactive stance toward checking that diet and exercise are both in healthy ranges, and don't harp on the weight.  Your kid is probably sensitive enough about it; pointing it out and making an issue out of it won't help.  Emphasize healthy habits that the whole family can participate in, and know that over a relatively short period of time, it's very likely that your teen's height will catch up with her weight.

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Andrea Ramsay Speers • Psychotherapist & Parent Coach • Oakville Family Institute • 175 Glenashton Dr., Oakville ON • Tel.: 905-491-6949

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