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Q. We'd like to send our daughter to a weight-loss camp this summer. She is 13 and already weighs 140 pounds. I am concerned that while she's home alone during the summer, she'll do nothing but snack and watch TV. She tends to react negatively whenever I mention her weight. My husband thinks I should leave her alone and she'll "grow" out of this. But I have to do something. How can I bring this up in a way that won't make her defensive? Would I be wrong to simply sign her up and make her go?
A. It's probably not the best parenting practice to simply sign your daughter up for a weight-loss camp and insist she go. Doing so could harm your relationship with your daughter; and the relationship between mothers and daughters during the teen years is often tentative at best. It could cause her to rebel by eating more or doing something more destructive to her body like smoking, drinking alcohol, or using drugs. She might sabotage the camp experience by going but once there not participating in the camp activities. Any of these possibilities would work against your goal, which is for your daughter to watch her weight by exercising and eating less.
Instead of making her go to a weight-loss camp, which is probably impossible anyway, have her choose between several camps, all of which offer a healthy approach to eating and exercise but aren't necessarily tagged a weight-loss camp. Now let her make her choice, which, of course, might be that she not go to camp at all.
Another approach is to present the following options by saying, "I notice you've gained weight, which isn't uncommon during the early teen years. If you'd like, you can go to a weight-loss camp; if not, you might consider joining a health club or going to a program weekly to learn about caloric intake and exercise. I'm just making the offer; going and participating is up to you." Once you've laid out the options, and she's made her decision, don't mention her weight or the program possibilities further.
It's a parent's responsibility to offer reality sound bites of positive and negative information to their children which are honest, loving, and brief. How the child responds parents can't control. So briefly and kindly offer information and facts about your child's weight, but realize that what your daughter does with that information she alone controls. Trying to influence her further by lecturing, advising, or bugging her about eating and exercise will work against the goal of better food and exercise habits.
Be a good model by eating well and exercising yourself. Make available nutritious food that she can eat abundantly without your guarded and critical eye on her. Realize that she and she alone controls what she swallows.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.