As adults, we know how challenging losing weight can be. But saddle on top of that a stream of verbal and emotional abuse that some children have to face, and you’ll soon understand why your child struggles so much with their weight. Teenage weight-related bullying is a major issue.

In a body-conscious society such as ours, even a well-adjusted, slightly overweight teen can suffer serious self-esteem issues that bullies are all too eager to prey upon.

Also, some of the teasing can stem from home – from other siblings or even from parents themselves (who mistakenly believe that teasing their child will motivate them into doing something about their weight). This couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are many ways to try to tackle this but there is no doubt that being overtly supportive and loving at home is the first step.

Also, if your teen is committed, losing some weight can help substantially. This is not ‘giving into’ the bullies but, rather, it helps make life a little easier and happier for your child. After all, that’s all that most parents want for their children.

Avoidance Compounds the Problem

Your teen may start wanting to skip school or may even refuse to go to school altogether. Now parents have a bigger problem on their hands. The weight problem is being compounded by the feelings of upset and rejection by his or her peers, which can lead to them starting to ‘use’ food as a coping mechanism or as a reward.

School avoidance will also often make the bullying worse, as bullies pick up on the fact that their victim is upset. Also, according to research, youths who are teased about their body weight are also likely to avoid physical activities, often because these are settings where they feel vulnerable to teasing. Often what parents are then faced with is an overweight child who fails to exercise and hides in their room with a screen and some junk food – it all snowballs into a very stressful situation for everyone.

At Motivation, we are experienced and trained in supporting teens to lose weight. We don’t see weight loss as simply ‘going on a diet’. Rather, we believe that, together with our client, we need to get to the root cause of the weight in order to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off.

As such, our approach has two prongs to it; firstly, we support the teen in following a healthier diet.

We do this by devising a customised plan that will take into account their schedule and their tastes. The plan is devised around a way of eating that will help to suppress appetite so that the teen is able to lose weight without being overly hungry.

Secondly, we tackle habits and behaviours through our mental weight report (which is carried out with all clients once per month). This helps tracks their habits and attitudes so that we can highlight problem areas (such as eating too much sugar or not getting enough sleep) and then we can can work on goals together to help improve those aspects of weight.

Tips to Help Parents Tackle Weight-Related Teenage Bullying

Most of our teenage clients feel secure and confident that their sessions with their weight loss advisor is 100% private. In this setting, teens often open up about the mistreatment they are suffering at school or at home due to teasing about their weight. We can discuss this with them and help them to devise strategies to deal with it, using CBT techniques.

However, in addition to helping your child to lose weight in a sensible way (which would be about 1-2 lbs each week), it is crucial that parents directly deal with the emotional aspects of bullying with their child. Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away; it only serves to make the teen feel more isolated. When you help your child emotionally, you will find that they become more content and it also becomes much easier for them to lose weight.

As the bullying lessens, your teen’s self-esteem will likely increase and you will be able to monitor that through the mental weight reports that he or she completes in our clinic.

Weight-Related Teenage Bullying: Tips for Parents

Remind your child that no one deserves to be teased. Regardless of whether it is because of weight, skin colour or any other reason, bullying is never okay.

Talk to your child about how he or she is feeling – probe gently and aks “How does that make you feel?” Use active listening skills and let them do most of the talking.

Speak to your child’s teacher and/or principal about the incidents of teasing.

Go to the principal if the teacher doesn’t act to stop the bullying; nearly all schools now have anti-bullying policies in place which they can follow (although weight-related bullying is sometimes not on their radar unfortunately). Your child may be embarrassed about you going into the school but you can’t afford to let him or her to be mistreated any further.

Teach your child to be assertive and to stand up for himself or herself verbally, not violently. As much as possible, teach your child to not react to the teasing. If the bully sees your child reacting, the teasing can worsen. Tell your child to just walk away, as if they haven’t heard or noticed anything.

Build your child’s confidence by praising his or her strengths rather than pointing out any flaws. This is especially true for overweight kids.

Try to arrange for your teen to spend more time with the friends that he/she does have, perhaps at the weekend. Being in a group makes him or her less likely to be singled out for teasing.

Computers and phones need to be monitored. Weight-related teenage bullying through social media is very hurtful and, obviously, so incredibly public. Monitor your child’s social media activity and take seriously any cyber-bullying against your child (always encourage your child to screenshot what they have seen).

Reassure your child that they can trust you and that you won’t take any action without first discussing it with them.

Spend time with your teen, perhaps giving them special attention such as a trip to the cinema or a restaurant just with you. Or start a new hobby together, such as golf or something creative like painting. Feeling more connected to you will help your teen to become more resilient and more sure-footed when dealing with the bullying.

If all else fails, you may think it is the right decision to move your child to another school. Sometimes there is a culture of bullying in one particular year group, or even in a particular school, that you may find does not exist so much in another setting.

Next Steps

To find out more about Motivation Weight Management, consider booking our Adolescent Initial Assessment. At this private assessment with one of our weight loss consultants we will:

– Listen to WHY your son/daughter are here and what they would like to achieve from our programme.

– Discuss their weight loss goals and what may be stopping them from achieving them.

– Look at their history and what other programmes they may have tried.

– Explain how we are different and show you and your son/daughter the techniques and tools we have available to help them get the long-term results they are looking for.

– Complete a full Body Composition Analysis, where we measure their fat, water and muscle percentages, their visceral fat percentage and their metabolic age.

– Assess their measurements, calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI), check their heart rate and blood pressure.

– Examine their current daily eating habits and lifestyle and discuss where they need to make changes.

This consultation will help to identify what type of plan best suits your son’s/daughter’s needs based on their own personal and unique requirements.

Please allow approximately 1 hour for the initial assessment. The initial assessment costs €95 and can be booked here.

Blog Post by Maebh Coyle