Weight, Language, and Self-Image

The language we use when talking to a child about their weight is very important. Doctors say that they themselves take great care in the words they choose when they talk to a child or their family member about weight and body mass index, even if their official classification falls under obesity.


The New York Times recently published a piece by pediatrician Dr. Perri Klass, who writes that physicians try to take care in order to avoid further hurting a child who may already be unhappy about their weight. A new policy statement jointly issued from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Obesity society urges pediatricians to use seemingly neutral words instead of words like “overweight” and “fat.”


Past and ongoing research into the social and emotional effects of obesity agree that comments on weight can have a large impact on a child’s self esteem. According to Dr. Rebecca Puhl, a clinical psychologist who is one of the lead authors of the policy statement, “Weight is now one of the most frequent reasons kids are teased or bullied.” One of her studies followed more than a thousand teenagers into their early thirties, and found that children who were bullied because of weight were correlated with binge eating, poor body image, and eating to cope with emotions (not to mention other eating disorders). These correlations, in turn, were linked to obesity in adulthood as well. The effect was present for men and women, but more pronounced for women.


Dr. Puhl says that healthcare professionals might be some of the few allies overweight children and teenagers can have. After all, they are most likely teased by family members as well as their peers. Another ally that comes to mind is teachers - where appropriate, they can intervene in a bullying situation, as well as promote body positivity and physical activity.


We can all be allies if we understand and recognize that making comments about a weight does not encourage positive change; instead, making comments about weight can result in negative, longterm impacts. It is important to make sure that children and teens have access to healthy, positive influences for their physical, mental, and emotional health.

Staying Safe Online Together

A new article in NPR suggests that there aren’t enough apps out there to protect teens online and  also actively engages them to develop their own decisionmaking. Parents are understandably worried their children will be exposed to explicit contents or bullying that have often resulted in tragic stories in the news. However, researchers in computer science have pointed out that app developers assume that parents are the main users of mobile online safety without considering the possibility (and necessity) of teens being proactive about the websites they visit and the messages they send. Teenagers who are aware of this necessity have even designed their own apps to address the need for parents and teens to work together to stay safe.


The article reports that the “Holy Grail” of parenting teens, according to developmental psychology, is “striking a balance between parental supervision and teen autonomy.” The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports this view, and released an online tool to help family members create a game plan together for mobile and media usage. The idea behind this plan is not to necessarily limit the activity of teens online since the internet is also a good place to find supportive communities with people who share similar interests. Instead, the goal is to encourage parents and teens to be proactive instead of being caught off guard by a problem in the future.


According to a statistic cited in this NPR article, currently, “only 16 percent of parents use monitoring software on their teens' mobile phones,” Parents still usually use other methods of checking up on their kids, like “friending” them on social media or directly logging into their accounts. Apps that are being developed focus mostly on restriction, with relatively little emphasis on education like teaching teens about self-monitoring or impulse control.


This problem presents a big opportunity for parents and app developers alike. There are more constructive ways to keep track of a teen’s online activity than snooping or restricting their usage altogether. When parents work with their students instead of restraining them, parents are showing their children that they are proactive partners who are helping them stay safer online. Apps that also focuses on developing interfaces that reflect the parent-child partnership can have potential to bridge the gap parents often feel when it comes to their teens and technology. Through a renewed outlook on teens and technology, parents can also encourage their children to keep track of their own decision-making as well.