This article originally appeared in the Jan. 5, 2012, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The first week of the year is filled with hope and anticipation for what 2012 will bring. For many, it is also filled with things to change in the next 51 weeks—and more often than not, weight loss tops that list. While many people do set resolutions that are realistic and practical, others may set lofty goals that seem to set them up for failure.
Unfortunately, teenagers aren’t immune to this clean-slate, gotta-change-everything phenomenon. Many families share their New Year’s resolutions with one another, looking for support and encouragement. As many parents adopt high weight-loss goals for this new year, some teens are following in their footsteps toward the scale.
Certainly taking steps toward greater health is an appropriate resolution, but there are ways parents can encourage their children without inspiring unrealistic goals.
Parents should talk with their teen about the weight loss goal. Maintaining a healthy weight is important, but many teenagers—especially girls—may develop an unrealistic expectation of beauty. Girls are inundated with celebrity photos depicting an ideal woman. These photos are often digitally altered and can promote a body type that is difficult to achieve. Parents can talk to their children about their goals and reinforce those, rather than striving to look like a celebrity; staying healthy and active is the most important goal.
Kids take many of their emotional cues from their parents. With this in mind, parents should be realistic in setting goals for themselves and talking to their kids about those goals. While we sometimes get into the habit of making disparaging remarks about our appearance and make that our sole motivation for change, this can send a negative message to kids still forming their ideas about their own body and appearance.
Instead of focusing just on appearance, parents can promote a positive and healthy lifestyle as they talk about their own goals to lose weight. Parents may aspire to run a half-marathon, finally learn Zumba, or simply be able to play baseball with their children. These are all positive messages that promote being healthy in a fun way and also encourage physical activity.
Likewise, parents should refrain from talking about foods in a negative way. Making certain foods off-limits to a family with no dietary restrictions will make the food seem like the most appealing snack in the world. A better approach is to teach good nutrition and to practice moderation. Kids who learn to make conscious food choices throughout the day will have a healthier attitude toward their body and nutrition.
So many New Year’s resolutions are written in the negative—“lose weight,” “stop eating fast food,” “don’t spend so much time watching the TV.” While these can be great aspirations, experts believe that goals should be phrased in an active and positive way to promote better results. Rather than using negative language, parents can set positive and measurable goals for themselves and encourage their child to do the same, such as drinking more water, eating more vegetables and cooking more healthful meals at home. In this way we should strive to be a little kinder towards ourselves, which is appropriate for the season.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.