Mum: I had a phone call from Jess’s PE teacher, Miss Harrison, today and she’s also noticed Jess’s obsession with diets and weight. Do you think we should speak to her about it? Is it becoming a problem?
Dad: I have noticed that she hasn’t been eating much at dinner. She’s so hard on herself about her weight. Doesn’t she know that she’s fine?
Mum: I’m beginning to think not. Sometimes I really worry that all those wasted years of my own diet crazes have rubbed off on her. Thank goodness I finally learnt to eat healthy and start liking this old body of mine.
Dad: So do I. Look, let’s leave it a week but keep a watch out for how she’s going. Maybe the best thing we can do is just keep her positive. Keep dinner time yummy but healthy. Keep reminding her about what her body actually does for her and what a great girl she is, that kind of thing. Maybe we should encourage her to have a chat with a GP.
Mum: Getting Jess to have a talk to Dr Beattie or someone at the practice would be a good idea. Just to check out the whole teenage growth thing, what’s normal and what to worry about. I think for myself, things started improving when I just became more active and I learnt that we’re all different. I think the whole body image thing is much more about self-esteem than it is about food. We need to help Jess feel good about Jess, and have fun that doesn’t focus on food and weight.
Dad: Yeah, good idea. What do you want me to say to Miss Harrison?
Mum: No, that’s okay. I thanked her for picking up on it and I’ll have another chat to her after Jess has been to see Dr Beattie.
Jess: Hey! Long day at school and then swimming.
Dad: Hey, Jessie!
Jess: I’m not that hungry, so I might just skip dinner.
Dad: You must be exhausted. Go and have a shower while we finish dinner. Come and join us for some chicken and salad and tell us about your day.
Hon. Professor Jennifer O’Dea (nutritionist and health educator): Here we see how important it is that parents talk together, to each other, and agree how to manage the issue together. It’s good – it’s great – to see Dad, Gavin, actively involved in the discussion, generate some useful ways to be supportive and positive.
Mum and Dad both demonstrate that they are comfortable with their own bodies and that’s important for parents to model and the fact that we’re all different, that we’re all made different.
We also note that the parents are not trying to push Jess or make meal times a battle ground for discussions about food because that makes them feel defensive about food and it becomes about food when in fact, it’s not about food, it’s about self-worth.
Parents need to encourage healthy options, create conversations that keep the gate open for important discussions about what is really affecting their teenager’s self-esteem.
It may be that Jess feels low self-esteem and then projects that on to her weight. Boys do the same thing. The parents then work out together, that it would be worthwhile seeing the GP to understand normal growth in adolescence. Children grow differently – boys and girls at different rates. It’s good to track height, very positive for the child, and the parents take another important step to understanding more about their daughter’s body image concerns.