You can take what you want from this. You should know that I have zero daughters, and that I am not a parenting expert. All I am is a daughter of someone, a mom of boys, and a survivor of getting called fat as a teenager many times. I am a keen observer of human behavior, because human behavior is fascinating and hysterical. Lastly, I am an avid reader. That means, sometimes I find myself reading really dumb shit on the internet.
For example, the other day I read an article that was giving advice on how to talk to your tween daughter about being overweight. I contemplated this for a while. Now I have something I need to say.
Can we take a minute from this beauty-crazed world and remember that puberty is supposed to be hard? It is supposed to humble the unstoppable child — a child who was clearly the center of the universe for so many years, but now you have to help them transition into being an adult. How do you kindly tell them that the world doesn’t revolve around them while still maintaining their healthy self-esteem? No, I’m asking. Do you know? Because I sure don’t.
Here are the things I do know:
In seventh grade, I was the sexiest piece to ever grace the halls of middle school.
Yes, I tripped over my cat and broke my arm. Yes, it says “i HEART Ben Affleck” on my cast. Yes, I had recently cut my own bangs. Yes, I’m wearing a full WNBA uniform to school. Yes, I have the whole bottle of hair gel in my hair. Yes, there are many sad eyebrows in this photo. Any other questions?
The week after I graduated high school I looked like this:
It wasn’t because some helped me learn about counting calories.
It’s called growing up.
So here are my tips on what to do instead of talking to your teenage daughter about weight:
1. Let Them Be Awkward
Preteens are supposed to be awkward. My sister and I always credit middle school as the time of personality development because no boys were interested in us for our looks. So instead of sabotaging your daughter’s self-esteem by trying to get her on a diet, let her be awkward. I mean, getting chunky before you get your period is practically a rite of passage! Fifteen-year-old bodies are supposed to be figuring themselves out. Leave them alone. Why don’t you just focus on the good.
You know what’s fun? Being smart. You know what’s also fun? Wiffle ball, dodgeball, Girl Scout camp, trumpet playing, swimming, singing, running, Frisbee, sand castles, painting, gardening, photography, science, student government, guitar, silly crafts on rainy days, made-up games, hot chocolate and Pixar movies, handstands, rollerblading, ice skating, identifying birds, collecting shells…. Do you get it?
Figuring out “how to be skinny” doesn’t belong on that list.
If they bring it up. Talk, support, listen, but focus on the good. You know what makes you skinny? Going out and living your life. Moving your body. Eating food that grows from the ground. Drinking water. That’s it.
2. Options, Options, Options
Psych 101 says kids love to be in control. Feeling like they are making a decision for themself is empowering. So instead of “Put on a shirt right now!” it’s “Do you want to wear the red or blue shirt today?” It’s the same thing with exercise. Don’t present it as, “Do you want to swim or not?” Instead state it as, “Do you want to ride a bike, go for a swim, or take a walk around the pond?”
3. Look in the Mirror and Only Say Nice Things About Yourself in Front of Your Daughter
Teaching her that it is OK to like yourself is an invaluable lesson. So maybe you are already broken? You loathe your muffin top. You eat your feelings. You do fad diets. But don’t put that on her. She’s watching you.
4. Live an Active Life
Stop saying things like, “OK, we have to work out for 30 minutes today!” Don’t make exercise seem like another grueling life task.
Your daughter is a lot more likely to stay on the soccer team if you show an interest in it. If you make a point to kick the ball with her for 10 minutes every night before dinner, I promise, positive things will happen for both of you.
“Hey! My kid doesn’t like team sports!” you say.
Well, take whatever her interest may be and turn it into an action. If she likes taking pictures, take her to a pretty park or outdoor area and have her walk around taking pictures. Show her that hiking a mountain will help her find the most glorious pictures in the world. Go to the craft store afterward and get an album to put said pictures in. Now you’ve just spent an hour going for a walk, and a half-hour walking around the craft store.
Just get up and move.
5. Accept That Someone Is Going to Call Your Kid ‘Fat’
I was called “fat.” You were called something too. Don’t go running into the school throwing haymakers at little boys who somehow snaked past super awkward adolescence. Fat, turd, nerd, stupid, ugly, gross. Are these words OK? Of course not. It’s terrible. But kids are learning how to be socialized human beings. It’s going to take a while. Some never get it. It isn’t your job to fix that other kid. It’s your job to guide your kid through it. Teach them skills to handle people who suck. That is an important life skill! This is your opportunity to teach your kid that life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you react to what happens to you.
6. Don’t Expect Your Kid to Be Super Active If You’re Just Sitting on a Bench
My dad had four children. All four of his children were the captain of their varsity basketball team. Was this because my dad forced us to play? Was it because he just signed us up every year and yelled at us to practice in the driveway? Um, no.
It was because he played with us. If you share something you love with your child, it’s not rocket science they may grow to love it too. My dad would wake up and 5 a.m. and climb staging all day and build chimneys many stories high. Then he would come home covered in cement, plop down on the rock wall in our yard that happened to be the perfect height for a strike zone, and then let each of us kids pitch to him. I can still picture him sitting on that stone wall. That is definitely one of my core memories from my youth.
Show your kids what you love, and then do it with them. Yes, maybe your kid won’t be into it, and that’s OK. That’s when you become a flexible adult and take an interest in what they like. That also propels success.
Understanding the difference between “Go shoot 50 free throws” and “Let’s go shoot 50 free throws. I’ll rebound for you” will change your kid’s life.
7. NEVER Expect Your Children to Listen to You
You are planting seeds. Don’t stop talking about how poor nutrition is linked to things like depression. You can still eat pizza, but your body needs nutrients too! Educate them about how food is fuel and that drinking water is the most important thing you do on any given day. Tell them they have to “fill their tank.” Your body is a vehicle, and water is the gas. Remind them that everything in moderation will prolong your adult life.
Alas, your children will do the exact opposite. Your teenagers will treat their bodies like trash barrels. They will have erratic sleep patterns. They will overeat. You will feel like you are talking to yourself.
Don’t worry, you’re not. You are planting seeds. I hear voices from my adolescence all the time. I am a successful adult because of those voices. But you better believe I didn’t listen to any of them at the time. Sorry Dad! Keep talking to them. Keep giving them information. You’ll see.
Numbers have no place in your teenager’s life. Weight, caloric intake, number of minutes spent working out — no bueno. Instead take them out and explore the world. I promise you will find a happier, healthier result.