Navigating body issues with teenagers
Q: Do you have any advice for approaching or responding to the topics of body image, healthy eating and exercising with my tween daughter? Her body’s changing, and once in a while she laments the changes — nothing I’m concerned about, normal stuff. I also see these (relatively infrequent) comments as an opportunity to broaden the discussion from "looks" to feeling good and healthy and taking charge of your physical and emotional health.
I am sensitive about discussions surrounding body image, food, exercise, etc. She’s already well-versed in the biology of what’s happening, and her dad and I model good behavior around eating, exercise, and tending to our emotional health, so we’re on the right path.
Raising a Tween Girl
A: "Broaden(ing) the discussion from ‘looks’ to feeling good and healthy" is good stuff, but it will quickly not be good if you respond to her complaints automatically with, "What matters is that you’re healthy," or etc. Doing that will have the unintended effect of negating her, and also sending her the message that bodies and feelings about bodies are not to be discussed except within the narrow confines of the parental talking points.
Anyway, your modeling good behavior and emotional housekeeping is huge, and so I suggest, where possible, you get moving. Hike, bike, paddle, swim, dance, ski, skate, etc., as a family. It’s easier to feel good about a body that’s doing good things for you.
And respond to your daughter’s complaints by saying her frustrations with her changing body are normal. Everybody goes through it.
And do a lot of listening before you respond, because she may still find it useful to hear that feeling good takes precedence over looks, but the way you say it needs to be tailored to what she’s asking of you, versus coming off as boilerplate mompreach. Being heard can do more for a kid’s mental, and therefore physical, health than a kale and quinoa surprise.