Ask the Mom: What Do I Say to My Overweight Teen?

by Meagan Francis
Originally Published: 

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Dear Meagan,

My 13-year-old daughter is about 10 to 15 lbs. overweight. She knows it and is bothered by it, and our doctor has gently mentioned it to her (but with only a tiny bit of guidance on what to do). I want to help her before she gains any more weight, but I’m so worried about adding to her angst about this. So many girls develop eating disorders these days! What would you do: Consider an outside program like Weight Watchers or try to help her at home? We already eat quite healthily with very little junk food around. The challenge is eating junk with friends, large portions, eating all her Easter candy in one sitting—that sort of thing.


Worried Mom

I feel for you and your daughter, Worried! Thirteen is such a tender age, and the last thing you want to do is add to any sensitivity your teen already has about her weight. On the other hand, I totally understand your desire to set her up now for a lifetime of healthy habits.

You mention that you keep healthy food in the house, but that she eats large portions. Of course, even healthy food can equal weight gain when we eat too much of it, and portions can be hard to gauge, especially when you’re a ravenous teen. Without criticizing yourself or focusing too much on weight, you might have a conversation with your daughter about serving sizes and how many calories it takes to burn off a pound. I’ve done this in a conversational, current-events kind of way in our house—”Wow, did you realize that this bottle of chocolate milk is actually two servings?”—and it’s created some great discussion without putting the spotlight on any one person or weight gain specifically.

Above all, I’d try to focus on health rather than size, and lead by example: Encourage your daughter to be physically active by signing her up for activities she enjoys, by being active yourself, and by modeling healthy eating habits—including sitting down at the table to eat, filling your plate with reasonable portions, and eating slowly. You can even couch those changes in terms of adding healthy things to her life—exercise, veggies—rather than taking anything away.

I have a child who’s on the pudgy side, so I totally understand the desire to protect and help your daughter. On the other hand, as you’ve mentioned, your daughter already knows she’s overweight. I feel like one of the most impactful things I can do as a mom is to not pile on and be another source of criticism or shame, even if it’s done with the best possible intentions. So my personal approach is to model healthy choices, serve good food, and only give my opinion or advice when it’s overtly asked for. To be honest, that doesn’t happen very often, but I do think that it’s the only time teens are really receptive to it, anyway.

Good luck, Worried, and best of luck to you and your daughter!


Help me out here, Meagan.

A few friends invited my family to start a regular, once-a-month Sunday dinner night with them. We all take turns hosting and bringing sides and dessert, while our collective eight kids go nuts together. It’s great! The problem is that all the kids are age 9 and younger, except for my 13-year-old daughter—and she’s starting to dread these gatherings. Understandably so, since she ends up being glommed onto by small children or shooed away from the adult conversation. How can we make the evening more palatable to her? Just let her surf Instagram the entire time? Do we excuse her from coming altogether? What she really wants is for us to quit hanging out with these friends so much, but the rest of us are having fun. I’d love your take, wise one!


Ah, M. You’re experiencing firsthand the challenges of trying to placate teens without completely absolving them of social and family obligations. My approach? Compromise. It isn’t wrong to expect your daughter to suck it up and allow you to enjoy a once-a-month family event, even if it isn’t her cup of tea. But it’s also fair to make some concessions considering she’s the only one not getting much out of it.

Would it be possible or palatable for your daughter to take on a new—ahem, paid—role of babysitter to the rest of the kids? She may feel like she’s getting roped into that role already, only without the cash … which could be adding to her aversion. But if she likes kids in general, she may jump at the chance to act in a more official role.

Or, could your daughter attend just part of the get-together? We started this routine when my teen sons got old enough to be disinterested in hanging out with their much-younger sibs and cousins at my brother’s house all the time. Often they’ll come just for the hour or so before dinner, then after they eat, they’re welcome to walk home (we live close by). That way they’ve put in an appearance but don’t have to give up a whole evening.

If physically going home mid-gathering isn’t an option for your daughter, maybe you could require that she engage with company for an hour or so (no fair shooing her away from the adult table during that time!), then let her feel free to surf Instagram, study or read. You can even ask your hosts about finding her a relatively private space where the little kids won’t start climbing on her. Hey, they’ve all been teenagers before … they should understand!

I know how fun those multi-family gatherings can be, M, as well as how tricky it can be to balance a teen’s wants with the rest of the family’s. Best of luck finding a solution that makes everyone happy!


Dear Meagan,

I started having kids earlier than the rest of my circle of friends, and now I’m the only one with a teen. For years I thought we were past all the “mommy wars” stuff, but suddenly I’m feeling like I’m on the receiving end of judgment again … when it comes to my 14-year-old daughter. Whether it’s her cell phone, her clothes or the TV shows she’s allowed to watch, I’m picking up on some “When my kid is a teen, I’ll never …” ‘tude from my buddies … who, as I already pointed out, don’t actually have teens and have no real-world idea what they’re talking about! How do I find my confidence again while gently getting my well-meaning but clueless friends to STFU?

-Teen Mom

Dear Teen Mom:

I feel you. Being the first one in your group of friends to have kids can be great—by the time they all start catching up, you’re practically a guru in their eyes!—but it’s stressful and uncertain to always lead the way … particularly when you’re the first one to navigate the rocky terrain of adolescence.

When I’m in a similar situation, I start by gauging what the other person is really saying. Are they just being critical, or are they asking a genuine question? Maybe they also wonder how they’ll handle difficult subjects when their kids get older, and are looking to me for perspective. In that case, I’m happy to engage, and usually find that my friends and acquaintances are respectful and even grateful for my input.

Also make sure you aren’t unfairly getting defensive—that offhand comment about teenagers using too many screens or wearing skanky-short skirts may not be in any way directed at you or your kid. Either way, if you’re feeling the hot flush of indignation in response to a friend’s comment, there’s no point engaging: Just say something noncommittal (“uh huh” works well) and change the subject.

Of course, I’m sure a part of you can identify with your opinionated friends—after all, even before you became a mom, chances are good you “knew” you wouldn’t allow X, Y or Z (pacifiers, tantrums, etc.) and have found again and again that your ideals and ideas about parenthood change when you’re confronted with reality. Your friends will get there, too. In the meantime, keep in mind that all that matters is how you (and your co-parent) feel about the rules you set in your house. The more you practice letting those other opinions roll off your back, the more confident you’ll start to feel about doing what you know is right. Hey, you know this. You did it already, when she was a baby, a toddler, a preschooler and so on.

Good luck, Teen Mom—it’s not easy to parent a teen, but I’m sure you’re doing a bang-up job.


Meagan Francis is an author and the creator of the Happiest Home blog. Her most recent book, The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood, helps moms find more satisfaction in every area of their lives.

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