I have always been an advocate for healthy eating and have tried to educate my children well in this regard. My thirteen year-old, however, likes to spend time with his friends hanging out at fast food places. I noticed that he’s getting a bit chunky lately. I don’t want to take away the fun he’s having, since we live in a small town where there’s not much to do for kids, but his weight gain concerns me. What should I do?
You are not alone. Most parents struggle at one time or another with their children’s eating habits. Teenagers especially, who are in the process of separating themselves from home and trying to find their own identity, will sometimes use food as a tool to assert their independence, simply because that may be an area where they have more control. This doesn’t have to give cause for alarm, unless someone develops serious eating disorders in the process.
I don’t think that’s the case with your son, though. Food may not even be the main issue. From the way you describe it, he just likes spending time with his friends and, unfortunately, that includes regular visits at fast food places – which is not a good idea at any age and certainly not for kids who are growing and are particularly in need of sound nutrition. If negative effects are already showing in terms of weight gain, it may be time to have a serious talk. You say that healthy eating habits are well established in your household. That should make it easier for you to remind your son of the importance of a balanced diet. It would be much harder if bad eating habits were common in your family and lifestyle changes had to be imposed on everyone.
Unfortunately, there is a certain urgency in all this. The damage your son is doing to his body right now may have serious consequences for his health later in life. In a few years, you will have less influence and control over your children’s lifestyle choices, and once they have money in their pockets and are old enough to drive, they are out of your reach.
Another obstacle that works against you is the omnipresence of fast food joints. Even in small towns like yours, they can be found on almost every corner. Health care professionals and policy makers have long urged legislation that keeps fast food outlets away from school grounds – obviously without much success. Worse yet, many schools depend on the funds they receive from snack food- and soft drink manufacturers for allowing them to sell their products on or near campus. Don’t expect for these policies to change any time soon.
So, what can parents in your situation do? As always, good communication is key. Your son is old enough to have a mature conversation about your concerns. At first, he may refuse to listen, but in my experience as a mother, nothing is really lost on teenagers, even if they pretend otherwise.