If parents of overweight teens want to boost their kids’ self esteem, here’s what they should say to them about dieting: nothing.
A new study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, looked at how families affect the mental health of overweight adolescents, many of whom suffer from low self-esteem and show symptoms of depression. It found that parental encouragement to diet has a clearly negative impact on kids’ psychological well-being.
Even parents’ seemingly kind weight-related comments have the potential to lower children’s self-esteem and influence them to take unhealthy steps to control their weight, such as skipping meals or using diet pills.
On the contrary, scheduling a regular family mealtime and creating a pleasant mealtime atmosphere—while refraining from any discussion of diets or weight, not to mention teasing—may boost overweight teens’ self-esteem, lower their depressive symptoms, and lead to better family connectedness.
“Adolescents can be very sensitive about their bodies, particularly during periods of great bodily changes,” says Jayne Fulkerson, the lead researcher and a professor at the University of Minnesota. “Instead of commenting about an overweight adolescent’s weight, parents may be more effective focusing on the health of the entire family by providing healthful foods in the home and promoting physical activity for everyone.”