Tough love or toxic torment? More than one in three overweight teens is taunted by their parents about their size, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. The mostly verbal teasing ranged from parents pestering teens about portion sizes to nitpicking the way their children’s clothes fit.
Researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University surveyed more than 350 teens at national weight loss camps about the types and extent of teasing and bullying they had experienced. Almost all reported teasing by their peers, 42 percent reported taunting by coaches or gym teachers, and 37 percent reported teasing by their parents.
Well-intentioned comments that might seem harmless—or even constructive—to adults may actually be quite destructive to overweight teens, warns Rebecca M. Puhl, Ph.D, lead author and director of research at the Rudd Center. The taunting can spur eating disorders, dangerous weight loss methods like laxatives, and depression in heavy kids, studies have shown.
“Parents need to be careful not to communicate in ways that are critical or judgmental of their child’s weight,” Puhl told Parenting.com. Here, her do’s and don’ts for interacting with an overweight child:
- Adopt healthier eating and exercise habits as a whole family. Kids who are supported by their parents are more likely to be successful in changing their behavior, Puhl says.
- Praise her for making healthy food choices.
- Set realistic family health goals that can be monitored and accomplished (such as walking for 20 minutes each day.)
- Get informed—and teach her—about the complex causes of weight gain and the realities of losing it and keeping it off.
- Boost her self-esteem by celebrating her non-weight related successes and talents.
- Focus on improving her food and exercise behaviors, not just on the scale.
- Make negative or stereotypical comments about weight—yours, his or someone else’s.
- Talk disparagingly about your own weight (“I look like a whale in in this shirt.”)
- Make him feel guilty about eating or suggest he is to blame for his weight.
- Make fat jokes—especially ones about his weight.
How to you address the issue of weight with your child? Leave a comment.