When you think of summer, the idea of fun outdoor activities in the warmth of the sun automatically comes to mind.
Cannonballs in the pool, swimming in the ocean, long bike rides, outdoor hikes and beach volleyball – with our kids enjoying far more time outdoors being active, it seems only reasonable to believe that they would lose weight during the summer, not gain it.
But, summer isn’t necessarily what it used to be.
Ever since cell phones, video games, texting and social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter arrived on the scene, summers, as we remember them, haven’t been the same. The massive intake of media as well as screen time, what some are calling the “digital drug,” is not only impacting our kids’ interest in outdoor summer activities, it’s also impacting their weight.
In fact, a study of more than 5,000 kids from 310 schools spearheaded by Dr. Paul von Hippel and colleagues at Ohio State University and Indiana University found that summer and weight gain in kids and teenagers go hand in hand. Less daily structure, greater access to unhealthy “junk food” snacks, more screen time, more television and generally more sedentary behavior is to blame for the vast amount of kids who experience weight gain during the summer.
And, considering the fact that the percentage of teenagers affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970’s and nearly one in five children and teens are obese according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s reason for concern.
The good news is if your teen has been packing on a few pounds since school let out, there’s plenty you can do as a parent to help your child get back on a healthy track. Here’s a few simple tips to help your teen shed those unwanted pounds and help them feel more in control of their health.
Make it a Fun Family Challenge
No one, especially teenagers, wants to feel singled out and made to feel as though they’re the only one dealing with a few extra pounds. Make it a family challenge by working together to improve the family’s overall health.
Get your child involved by giving them the freedom to choose healthy recipes that appeal to them and invite them to help in the kitchen when it’s time to prepare the meals. Most importantly, take the time to educate your child about why certain foods and drinks are so unhealthy for them. The more they begin to view their body as a machine and understand how important it is to take care of it, the less likely they’ll be to reach for the Cheetos the next time they want a snack.
Say “No” to Junk Food
Chips, cookies, ice cream, candy, cake, doughnuts…what teenager doesn’t love junk food? The problem is, it’s easy to monitor our kids’ intake of junk food when they’re young, but the older they get, the harder it gets. Keeping tabs on their eating habits can be challenging when they’re grabbing snacks out of the pantry throughout the day, hanging out with friends and going out to lunch at the local burger joint where french fries and onion rings are aplenty. And, considering the fact that the average American now spends 44% of their budget’s food dollars at restaurants, it’s easy to see why our kids view fast food restaurants as perfectly acceptable.
As parents, our best defense against empty calorie junk food is limiting our kids’ supply in the house, (or, better yet, don’t buy any at all), having a stash of healthier snack options like fresh fruit, veggies, and high protein snacks, avoiding going out to fast food restaurants and helping them understand the damaging effect fast food has on the body.
Ditch the Soda
Did you know the average American drinks nearly 38 gallons of soda each year? And, we all know that most teenagers are far more likely to grab a soda over water given the chance. Although this might be your teen’s hardest habit to break, the health benefits of ditching soda will do them a world of good.
According to a Harvard study, sugary drinks are a major contributor of the obesity epidemic with a typical 20-ounce soda containing 15-18 teaspoons of sugar, (think about that for a minute), and nearly 240 calories. And, that’s just part of it. There’s a host of other reasons to steer clear of the “liquid candy.” So, the next time your teen reaches for a sugary soda, encourage healthier options like water, iced tea or even a fresh fruit smoothie.
Most teenagers will admit that the idea of “working out” doesn’t top the list of exciting things they’d like to do over the summer.
Although joining a gym as a family can be a great way to get the entire family in shape, if your teen hates the idea of working out, find a few other creative ways to get the whole gang moving.
Waterskiing, swimming, bike riding, hiking, tennis, paddle boarding, white water rafting and canoeing are all fun ways for your teen (and the entire family) to get in shape without the constant reminder that they’re actually exercising.
Set Goals with Rewards
Just because our kids are older doesn’t mean they can’t be motivated by a reward. Has your son been dying for you to buy him a new video game or does your daughter have her eye on a new dress she saw at the mall?
Motivate them by striking a deal. Have them set small, obtainable goals to start out such as shedding 2-3 pounds, skipping soda for a week or avoiding junk food altogether for two weeks. When they reach their goal, offer up a reward. Anything from a fun family outing or vacation to a day at a theme park or water park can be a strong motivator for a teenager.
Even though you might not want to bribe your child into changing their eating habits, the goal is to get the ball rolling and ideally, once they begin to see and feel the benefits (and hear the compliments about how great they look from their friends), it will keep them attuned to their health and encouraged to continue on their healthy quest.
You have far more influence on your child’s eating habits and overall health than you might think. The trick is to avoid being dictatorial and try to get your child’s buy-in so they take ownership of the changes they’re attempting to make in their life. Above all, keep the words of encouragement flowing! Even small improvements in the way they feel and look can do wonders for their self-esteem, their overall health and their motivation to keep moving forward in their efforts to drop a few pounds and become healthier.
At first they’ll ask why you’re doing it. Later, they’ll ask you how you did it.”