Being a teenager means being a perpetual mess of insecurities, so it might not be surprising to learn that talking to adolescents about weight and dieting isn’t great for their self-image. Slate reports that, according to a new paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics, if you want to help your teen develop healthy habits, it’s best to focus your discussions on healthy behaviors, like eating well and exercising, and not on their weight.
The paper, entitled “Preventing Obesity and Eating Disorders in Adolescents,” provides guidelines for pediatricians dealing with adolescent patients, though its recommendations are useful for parents as well. The paper argues that talking to teens about weight and diet (in the sense of restricting calories in order to lose weight) is counterproductive, can damage self-image, and can even contribute to the development of obesity or eating disorders. Dieting in particular can be harmful to adolescents, promoting a binge-and-fast lifestyle that can easily backfire and cause weight gain.
On the flip side, helping teens cultivate a positive self-image can help reduce the odds they’ll struggle with obesity or an eating disorder. Eating meals together as a family, the AAP claims, can also protect against eating disorders and obesity.
The AAP recommends that pediatricians employ a strategy called “Motivational Interviewing” when talking to adolescents, which they define as “a collaborative, goal-oriented style of communication with particular attention to the language of change.” The technique, which parents could also adopt, is to talk about a teen’s health in a collaborative, rather than accusatory, way. Parents and pediatricians, the AAP says, should strive first and foremost to develop an “atmosphere of acceptance and compassion” when talking to self-conscious teens about weight-related issues.