Dear Dr. Wes & Kelly: I was wondering how you thought I should go about trying to get my mom to eat healthy or how to make her want to?
Wes: I want to applaud you for caring enough about your mom to ask this question. We often think teens are so busy with their own lives that they don’t notice physical or mental health concerns in their folks. However, in my office, I often hear otherwise. Regardless of how indifferent or even hostile they seem, kids are nearly always concerned that their parents stay healthy. As you propose, however, teenagers may have a hard time getting an adult to do something when they really don’t have a lot of power. You can’t really take away your mom’s car if she doesn’t eat right or send her to her room if she doesn’t finish her vegetables. Of course, that doesn’t really work with teenagers either, so perhaps you’re no more powerless than anyone who wants to influence the behavior of others. By the way, influence is different than control. With influence you try to redirect others in the direction you’d like them to go without coercion (punishment, reward, nagging, trickery, etc.).
After educating yourself on a healthy diet, the best and most influential place to start is by setting a good example. I realize we give this advice to parents all the time in how they parent their kids, but the same is true for your attempt to guide your mom to the rich rewards of a balanced diet. If you eat right, your mom may follow suit. If you bring home the book “Eat This Not That” and talk about how great and easy it is to use, she may pick it up. Don’t TELL her she has to read it. Just show you’re excited about it. Go for a walk in the evening, as the weather turns more toward spring, and invite your mom along to spend some quality time together. Just be sure you keep to a reasonable pace as she may not be in the same shape you are right now. I know I’m not. Bottom line: It’s actually kind of hard to resist when our kids are trying to be good role models, especially when we’re the targets. Try these soft interventions first. Many moms want to be involved more with their kids, and this may be a chance to use that to your (and ultimately you mom’s) advantage.
If that doesn’t work, this might be a great opportunity to be a little rebellious. If mom isn’t buying fruits and vegetables, demand that she does. Go shopping with her and put them in the cart. What’s she going to do in response? She can’t get mad at you for throwing a fit over eating right. So if you’re feeling a normal teenage oppositional streak, you might use it here to bring about a positive change. Just balance your plan for good health with an understanding of cost. These are hard times, and it’s tempting to spend money on cheap food — and usually that means fat and carbs. Help your mom stretch her dollar by being cost and health-conscious.
Kelly: Our ever-so-perfect society has been slowly but surely falling into a pit of pure laziness, unwillingness and lack of caring about health. Our current culture trends tend to uphold a particular image that many of us seem to fall beneath. It’s amazing to see how throughout history the view of beauty has drastically changed. Centuries ago, the pleasantly plump individuals were typically upper class. To be gluttonous was a sign of wealth. Fast-forward, and now our culture seems to focus more on an athletic physique.
For some, it can be daunting to constantly compare everyone, trying to uphold this standard. Some may find this encouraging, while others find it emotionally and physically draining. I agree with Wes. Your concern about your mother only shows how much you care about her. It’s good for you to realize this and also communicate it to your mother. Yet, it may be hard for your mother to come to terms with her unhealthy diet, and if you do mention that you want her to live a better lifestyle, your mother may take offense.
On the other hand, maybe you will serve as the wakeup call that you mom needed. To increase the chances of that happening, when talking to her show your concern through sincerity. Patiently explain why you wish she’d live a healthier life style and suggest the benefits of doing so.
If you still seem to hit a roadblock — where she either ignores you or refuses to accept our views — suggest that you work toward a goal together. Tell her that you are there for her support and will work with her to live a healthier life style.
Exercise with her, if you have a dog, walk it together. Join the local gym and work the machines together. Plan and cook healthy meals together that both of you will enjoy. Not only will this help your mother with her lifestyle, but it will also help strengthen the bond between the both of you.
Next week: Teenagers in abusive relationships.
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.