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How to talk about weight with your teenager?

Arrière-plan

February 5, 2024 Well-being

Parents

Par Safiétou T. Sakala

Director of Mental Health Projects

Of all the changes that take place in adolescence, those related to the body hold a special place, both for parents who see their children grow up and for teens themselves who are developing their body image.

In addition to height, weight also changes, but not all young people accept it in the same way. In our society, the social norm greatly favors thinness. In this context, how can you help your teen develop a healthy body image, regardless of their weight?

Preventing fatphobia

Fatphobia is a set of stereotypes, prejudices, and negative behaviours that aim to demean or marginalise overweight people . For example, there is a common misconception that if a person is fat, it is because they lack willpower, eat too much or badly, or do not do enough physical activity. 

Weight is influenced by several factors such as genetics, medication, stress and emotions, family income, and sleep. 

Unfortunately, fatphobia is very present in our society. At school, for example, weight is one of the main sources of bullying. Even a compliment, which is not always meant to be ill-intentioned, can create or reaffirm concerns to those who receive or hear it.

The impact of fatphobia on health

In adolescence, being fat-phobic or overly preoccupied with one's weight can have a number of physical and mental health consequences.

It has a negative impact on body image and self-esteem, for example, leading to a constant fear of getting fatter, or constant dissatisfaction with one's reflection in the mirror. In some cases, it can even lead to eating disorders, anxiety or depression.

Weight often seems to have a direct effect on health. However, other factors, such as where we live and our childhood experiences, are particularly important to our health. Regardless of weight, a person can enjoy the benefits of adopting a lifestyle conducive to health and well-being. 

As a parent, it's therefore important to be careful with our words and actions, because even if they're well-intentioned, they could have major repercussions for teenagers.

Promote a healthy body image!

Here are a few ways to support your teen in accepting their body, regardless of their weight: 

•    Highlight their qualities and strengths that are not related to appearance.

•    Normalize and respect the diversity of body types and body types that naturally exist in society (e.g., encourage positive and open attitudes towards difference).

•    Talk about food and physical activity in a positive way, focusing on the pleasure and well-being they provide (rather than the weight they would "control"!).

•    Adopt healthy lifestyle habits such as appropriate stress management, good sleep quality, and balanced use of screens.

•    Be a role model yourself by being kind to your own body. 

•    Identify and deconstruct stereotypes and prejudices against people who are overweight (e.g. a person can be overweight while being very physically active). 

•    Avoid making comments and jokes about weight! 

To learn more

To learn more about what you can do to prevent fatphobia and promote a healthy body image, consult the tools offered by the Table québécoise sur la saine alimentation. 

For teens to thrive physically and mentally, it is essential to qualify and value them in ways other than appearance (by highlighting their personality traits, strengths, talents, achievements, etc.), to educate them about diversity, to stress the importance of being aligned and connected to oneself, and to establish a harmonious relationship with between parent and teen.


References (in French)

TQSA, Le poids dépend-il seulement de la volonté ?
Association pour la santé publique du Québec (ASPQ), Enjeux liés au poids
ASPQ, Trousse pour des communications saines sur le poids