"Mom. I think I'm getting fat, so don't put too much on my plate please."
Those were the words my 11 year old son said to me last night, as I was preparing to serve dinner.
I looked at him, sure he would be smiling, joking, surely he wasn't serious. But he was.
5 days ago, he had a wellness check up, his yearly visit to the doctor to make sure he's growing well and healthy. He measured in at 4'9 3/4" and weighed 75.4lbs. 50th percentile for his height and 30th percintile for his weight. His doctor even told him he was actually a little more on the skinny side of average.
And yet, here he was, worried he might be getting fat.
Of course, I sat down with him, discussed why he thought that and why it wasn't anywhere near true. We talked about how it's more important for him to make sure that he's healthy, active and eating the right foods than to worry about the numbers on the scales.
For dinner, he had his full plate, and seconds.
Between movies and magazines and television and social media, it's easy for our tweens and teens to get the impression that our bodies have to be perfect. Perfect hair, flawless skin, miniscule waistlines. These images and ideas don't just affect girls either. Many young boys compare themselves to the muscled athletes and male celebrities they see being idolized by the rest of the world. They agonize over not having large enough biceps or a defined 6-pack. The idea that they are imperfect, flawed, can lead to problems like depression and even eating disorders.
We know our children are beautiful. We know that one day too soon, they will grow into those long coltish legs that seem so awkward to them right now. We know that they will get bigger, taller, stronger, faster. But there are things we can do now to help bolster their self-esteem until that all happens.
1. Be positive. Never make critical remarks about your teen's body. Instead, compliment them. Tell her what pretty eyes she has, or how handsome you think his smile is. Help your tween by encouraging good personal hygiene and posture.
2. Be a great role model. Our children are always watching us, observing our actions, our lifestyles, our attitudes. They learn and they mimic. Pay attention to the example you set for them. When you are positive about yourself, it encourages them to be positive about themselves as well.
3. Focus on the person they are inside. Support their interests in talents and skills that have nothing to do with their looks, like music or sports or art. Tell them how you love that they can make you laugh, or how proud you are of them for their dedication to schoolwork. Let them know there is so much more to them than just their outer appearance.
Your tween may not always seem like they are listening, but be sure, they hear you. And you can make a difference.