Supporting a Teen Looking to Become Healthier

I'm looking to hear people's positive and negative experiences with their parents and health/weight. It's a challenging subject to navigate with a teenager so I'd love to hear from people who struggled as teens themselves:
  • What did your family do/say that was helpful for you?
  • What did they do that was not helpful or even harmful to you?

I'm trying to find the line between helping a teen learn and develop healthy habits that he can carry throughout his life, while NOT making him feel there's anything wrong with him as he is. Cultivating unconditional self-love is the most important piece, but I also know that having the knowledge and skills to be as healthy as possible are valuable things.

My backstory here is my 17 year old step-son recently moved in with my husband (his father) and I. Over the last year or so he's made some fairly negative comments about his body and appearance, and then during Covid he put on a bit of weight and was pretty down on himself about it. He would fall in the overweight BMI category. This was all before he lived with us.

Since he moved in about 6 weeks ago, the negative comments have decreased a bit. The relationship between he and his mother wasn't a heathy one toward the end and it was taking a toll on all areas of his mental health. Since he's in a new environment there's been a lot of positive changes in his attitude about a lot of things, but he still deals with some self-worth stuff and body image issues. We enrolled him in kickboxing (at his request) and he's really been enjoying that.

As of now, we haven't brought up anything related to health, food, or weight. We've been giving him as much positive affirmation as we can about anything and everything to help build his confidence in general and we fully support him in his kickboxing. We try to make our family meals as healthy and balanced as we can but haven't been talking about health or nutrition. He is seeing a counsellor but she supports him with all areas of his life and mental health, and I don't think body-image has been a big player in their conversations yet.

I want to do some research on teens and body-image before we attempt anything and I thought gathering some personal experience from folks willing to share would be a good addition to that.

Thanks for your help!


  • joanna_82
    joanna_82 Posts: 151 Member
    From the perspective of someone who was an overweight teen this is lovely to hear that you want to support your stepson.
    I would say that what you have done already sounds great- family time, fun activities, love and support and confidence building. I would try and keep any talk about food or weight to a minimum; just set good examples with healthy and varied food like you have said you are already doing.
    I would have loved my family to have encouraged activity and movement as part of life, and to have focused on building my confidence up and using my body for something positive.
  • littlegreenparrot1
    littlegreenparrot1 Posts: 694 Member
    I work with young people and help them manage their wellbeing. It sounds like you have made a great start.

    I would use the kick boxing as a helpful way in, if you like a sport and want to succeed at it this is how you fuel it. Might be worth having a chat with his coach about related resources you could use.

    Are there fun things you could do together that you could sell as cross-training? Hiking or swimming for example, runs round the park, whatever.

    I would focus on nutrition, and not mention the weight. As an overweight teenager I would have hated it if my family had mentioned it. I was well aware of it and nothing they did or said would have helped.

    It seems like there is positive movement in the right direction already, so I would let everything settle. He has a new more active lifestyle. Encourage him to get involved with meal planning and cooking, these are important life skills anyway, and you can talk about nutrition as part of that. He is seeing a counsellor anyway so it will probably come up there eventually.

    It is challenging to know what's best, I hope it works out.
  • VeryKatie
    VeryKatie Posts: 5,952 Member
    edited October 2020
    Honestly. My mom always made well balanced meals. I loved them. They didn't make me over weight.

    I should have listened more or been responsible for more cooking on my own. Because when I moved out, none of my food was good so I just had pasta all the time.

    Also my parents didn't really encourage physical activity much. We did ride bikes and play outside but other than swimming (life skill and stopped when we were in grade 8 or so) we didn't do any sports or things outside of school. Which meant I wasn't practicing often enough to become fit or get decent at things which made gym harder and annoying... making me not like physical activity at all.

    However - i completely understand why it was the way it was. There are 4 kids and 1 income in my family. My dad did like to encourage walking and jump rope and stuff and he was active. But he kind of focused a bit more on my brothers than me and my sister. Most likely because of our ages and the demands of his job as such as we reached that age. I doubt it was intentional. More likely my oldest brother also happened to be the most interested in it.

    My mom almost never mentioned sports and stuff ... maybe if both parents had?


    Now I'm thinking I need to focus a bit more on that with my kids lol.

    With your step son i would keep it simple cuz honestly it sounds like things are already working themselves out..

    Keep up the kickboxing.

    Have him help you in the kitchen because it makes it more fun and you want him to know how things work so he isnt that guy who puts food straight on the oven rack and has to clean the oven every time after he moves out lol. Keep it light. Sneak tidbits of info in while cooking, not even every time.

    I think that should cover it honestly. Maybe reduce screen time if that is an issue so he is more inclined to go bounce a basket ball outside or something.
  • snowflake954
    snowflake954 Posts: 8,399 Member
    edited October 2020
    I have 3 sons, all grown and men now. I wouldn't mention weight unless he brings it up, and he might, all of a sudden, so be prepared with your answers. It sounds like you're hitting all the bases. Keeping him active is the very best thing for a young male, and physical work can be good. They need to get in control of their bodies. This is necessary for his mental health. It all goes hand-in-hand. Watch to see if there's progress, and tweek as necessary. It's all a parent can do. Good luck.
  • charmmeth
    charmmeth Posts: 936 Member
    I agree with the helping in the kitchen bit. I think one of the reasons I have a reasonably good relationship with food is that my mother encouraged my sister and me to get involved from quite a young age. It's also a great opportunity to talk about why recipes include what they do and what a balanced diet looks like. I would have benefitted from more of those discussions; I learned a lot from reading cookbooks when I went to university.
  • lynn_glenmont
    lynn_glenmont Posts: 10,009 Member
    edited November 2020
    I was on the high end of the normal BMI range as a teenager (normal range for an adult, that is; I never heard of BMI as a teenager or ever had a doctor suggest I was not a healthy weight, so this is retrospective knowledge -- I was within an inch of my adult height by the time I was a teenager).

    The things my family did/said that were helpful to me from a physical health/weight standpoint was to provide healthy, well-balanced meals, and my parents both modeled enjoying veggies (more sincere on my mother's part than on my father's, I think). Also, dessert was not an every-day thing -- generally Sundays, birthdays, and holidays.

    The nonhelpful or even harmful things were pretty much everything my mother ever said to me about my weight or my eating. And everything she said came from a place of love and concern; I have no doubt about that. But it made me feel like if I couldn't be thin, I didn't have any worth at all, or at least that it completely cancelled out any other positive attributes, like being kind or smart or thoughtful or hard-working.

    (Edited because I accidentally posted before I was through typing)