Dear Carolyn: I am the father of a 13-year-old daughter who is not very active. She would rather sit on the couch and watch TV than do anything else, whereas most of her friends play sports or do other exercise-related activities. My wife and I are concerned because she has gained 20 pounds over the last 18 months or so, now has a noticeable belly, and her clothes are obviously tighter. I think her metabolism has dramatically slowed since she hit puberty about two years ago.
My wife and I have been very careful not to say anything about her appearance or her weight. We have always tried to instill good eating habits and we tell her she needs to exercise more for her overall health rather than weight loss. Unfortunately, she is not very receptive to our suggestions and we have a lot of heated discussions about it. My daughter doesn’t seem to understand the relationship between food, exercise and her body.
– Concerned Dad
A: You have a daughter who, at 13, has no interest in her world besides what comes off a screen, and you’re worried about 20 pounds? If she were thin, TV as life purpose would fly?
While you still have the (apparently underused) ability to say, “No TV except (conditions here),” your entire focus needs to be on your daughter’s emotional and intellectual health. How did she get to the point where she has no outside interests or hobbies, no passions, no non-couch activities like “most of her friends”?
Have you encouraged hobbies or skills? Have you equipped her to be an active adult, by providing experience, lessons and/or family togetherness in lifetime pursuits like hiking, biking, tennis, golf, swimming or whatever regional sports you have access to, like surfing, skiing, rowing, climbing?
And, have you equipped her to push herself, explore, try-fail-recover-repeat?
You do not get to decide what your daughter enjoys doing, and those forced aerobics can reap as much resentment as fitness. But you do get to say that sitting around the house being passively entertained is a waste of her gifts, a waste of time, a waste of life. (Sugar-coat as needed.)
And you can say your only requirement is that she pursue something. Art, music, books, dance, sports, recreation, crafts, volunteer work, paid work (dog-walking, baby-sitting, lawn-mowing), … ?
After stating your do-something requirement, back off and back it up simultaneously by giving her a choice between a day or two to come up with ideas of her own, or a brainstorming session where you and she think up some possibilities. If she chooses (a), then explain that coming up empty on ideas will bring on (b).
Even if your mouths never form the word, aerobics, ellipticals, portion control and snack-policing scream, “FAT.” Your daughter is inert, not stupid, and surely sees through the “active lifestyle” spin.
Maybe she’s ignorant of food-body connections, but her parents don’t seem to understand the relationship between food and boredom (and depression). So please consider a “purposeful lifestyle” goal. A kid who’s occupied and engaged rarely snacks till her clothes give out.