After you have raised a child through puberty, you can become very good at spotting a child who is in puberty. One of the first clues I notice is a change in how they look. Before they start to hit growth spurts that take them taller, their face looks more round and they seem a little more “robust” in different places like hips for the girls and shoulders for the boys.
Our society bombards us with serious warnings about weight gain. Look at the investment people make in exercise equipment, trainers, in and nutritional promises. I am not being critical of working hard to maintain a healthy weight, but the message we, especially girls, get from the media is that gaining weight is NOT a good thing.
If I can look at a young teen and can see that they are in puberty by just simply observing changes in their physical appearance, they are certainly noticing these changes when they look in the mirror. It must be alarming for these kids to see their bodies become larger and wonder what they are doing to cause this weight gain. It’s important for our children to know that when they enter puberty, gaining weight is important for them to be healthy.
One of the biggest challenges for parents with kids in puberty is helping them understand that what is happening to their body is NORMAL. There are stages in puberty, as with all changes, and along the way there will be a redistribution of fat in their body in preparation for the changes that come later.
It is all about hormone balance.
Although the science isn’t complete, we do suspect that there is a relationship between the weight that young teens gain during puberty and hormone balance. Too much weight gain or too little weight gain can throw off the hormone balance and affect your child’s development during puberty.
The fragile body image is also developing during this time of transition. Kids are facing pressure from the media, from peers at school, perhaps from coaches or teachers to stay fit, stay thin, or be strong. During this part of youth, it’s not always easy to fit into the latest and greatest category that everyone thinks you should. They call them the awkward teen years for a reason!
Throughout it all, their parents will be their constant.
You will always be there for them. Even when they don’t want to rely on your opinion or guidance, they will need it. So what can parents do to support a healthy body image in the midst of observable physical changes during puberty?
1. In the years before your child enters puberty, help them develop a healthy eating pattern. Your pediatrician can give you guidelines as to the appropriate weight for your child as they enter puberty and what you can expect over the next few years.
2. Enjoy family meals together. It is certainly important what we eat, but I believe it also important how we feel when we eat. Young teens benefit from a fun, safe family atmosphere even if they protest!
3. Probably the most important suggestion I can give you is to remember that this weight gain is part of a normal transition for your child’s body. This is not like adult weight gain. Because your child will also grow in height during puberty, their body will look different within a few years. Try not to be overly concerned or focused on the changes you see. Just keep reminding them that they look great.
4. Be careful not to talk too much about concerns you have about your own weight. Hearing your stress about what you eat and how much you exercise might make your child anxious about their own weight gain. Keep reminding yourself and them that puberty weight gain is a different situation.
5. Find fun ways to help them stay active. Bone density is enhanced by good physical activity during puberty in both boys and girls. They will generally feel better if they stay active.
Helping our young kids develop a healthy body image is just one more important step on the pathway to becoming young adults.