My daughter is 16 and has gained a significant amount of weight. Her nutritional habits have been on a slow, downhill path since her bat mitzvah, but recently things have gotten much worse, as she has started indulging in copious amounts of pizza and ice cream, and sometimes there are empty Chinese food containers and candy wrappers in her room. Moreover, she has stopped playing intramural soccer and going to the gym. My husband has begun making comments to her about her eating and weight gain, but it’s not helping. He wants me to speak with her, but I know how sensitive teenage girls can be. I do not want to make the situation worse. — Concerned
Dear Concerned: While Mensch has had some training in clinical psychology, he is not a professional and it seems important that you seek professional counsel in this matter. Diet and exercise are incredibly important to a happy and balanced life. And while it is expected that adolescents will experience mood swings and changes in behavior, conscientious parenting demands that these changes are noted and addressed with concern.
There are two aspects of this dilemma that strike Mensch as significant. First off, that your daughter has been gaining weight, indulging in pizza and skipping soccer might be less important than the fact that these activities (or lack thereof) represent a seemingly sudden change. Did anything difficult or traumatic occur in your daughter’s life in recent months? Was there a loss? A broken heart? If there is nothing you can identify, maybe a counselor or therapist will be able to help.
Second, your husband needs to stop “making comments.” Teenage psyches are indeed fragile, and ill-considered criticism or insensitive commentary could make matters exponentially worse. Eating disorders, which can arise from any number of factors including negative self-image, are distressingly common among teenage girls and can last a lifetime, sometimes with fatal consequences. Your husband does not want your daughter thinking his love is anything but unconditional. He can invite her to kick the soccer ball around or take a long walk, but he should absolutely avoid commenting on her weight.
That said, it’s not out of line for parents to forbid Chinese food and candy in a child’s room. Setting reasonable limits is an important part of parenting.
It’s possible your daughter is going through a phase and will return in time to her more active and healthy lifestyle. However, it would be a good idea for you to check in with a mental health expert about this change in behavior and your concern about it. You might start with the counselor at your daughter’s school or even her primary care physician.
In the fall, my son will be attending a Jewish day school for the first time. He’ll be in the fourth grade. We recently met a classmate of his at a mixer and they have had a few play dates. They get along well, and I am glad he has made a friend to ease this transition to unfamiliar surroundings. However, my son’s new friend has his own cellphone, and when the boys are together they seem to spend most of their time using it to play games and watch videos. Our son does not have a cellphone, nor will he until high school. My husband and I don’t believe it’s healthy. Can I tell this boy’s parents that I would prefer their son not bring his cellphone to our house without damaging the relationship? — Anonymous
Dear Anonymous: Kudos to you and your husband. Not only is it possible for you to set this restriction, it is the right thing to do. Of course, be respectful and avoid an accusatory tone. You might say, “We’re so happy the boys are friends and grateful your family has been so welcoming. However, is it OK if we ask you to keep your son’s cellphone when he comes over? We’re a little old-fashioned and trepidatious about our son having unmonitored access to the internet.”
Hopefully, they will understand. If they push back with the old saw that their kid needs a phone to contact them in an emergency, offer to keep it with you. It will be harder for you to set this limitation when your son visits his friend. But maybe the kid’s parents will be inspired by your example.