Carolyn Hax: Parents are concerned about inactive 13-year-old

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2D

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 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.

My wife and my daughter recently started going to aerobics classes together two to three times a week, which they both enjoy. The days they don't do aerobics are causing a lot of friction.

The ultimate goal is to make sure our daughter leads a healthy, active lifestyle. My biggest fear is that we inadvertently create self-esteem or body-image issues if we are not careful. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions about how to handle this?

– Concerned Dad

DEAR DAD: You have a daughter who has no interest in her world besides what comes off a screen, and you're worried about 20 pounds?

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 like "most of her friends"?

You don't get to decide what your daughter enjoys, 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 life.

You do get to say, yes, it can be difficult to figure out just what each of us has to offer. You can also say that the trial-and-error process can be either frustrating or interesting and rewarding, depending on how we approach it. You can say you will encourage and support whatever productive endeavor she chooses.

Maybe she's ignorant of food-body connections, but her parents don't seem to understand the relationship between food and boredom. So please consider a "purposeful lifestyle" goal. A kid who's occupied and engaged rarely snacks till her clothes give out.


Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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