Helping Preteens Develop Healthful Habits and a Positive Self-Image

As preteens sort through sometimes conflicting messages from parents, peers, and media, it can be challenging to guide them down a path toward positive self-image and healthful eating and exercise habits.

At the November 1 Preteen Alliance luncheon, Ann Tipton, MD, an adolescent medicine specialist from Kaiser Permanente, and Amy Jussel, a media expert and executive director of Shaping Youth, offered tools to help parents and caregivers meet those challenges head-on.

Dr. Tipton drew on her experience as a parent, as well as 20 years as the director of adolescent medicine at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland. She noted the developmental differences in preteen girls and boys (girls tend to mature earlier than boys), reviewed their dietary needs (aim for foods high in calcium, iron, and unsaturated fats, she said), and highlighted some essential points for parents and caregivers, such as the importance of modeling healthful eating and exercise habits to preteens and encouraging preteens to choose exercise activities that are rooted in his/her interests.

Amy Jussel, of Shaping Youth, noted that parents and preteens face a barrage of media messages that can undermine those healthy behaviors and negatively affect a preteen’s self-image.

Ms. Jussel suggests using some of the same tactics found in junk food marketing at home with healthier options. For example, show preteens the ingredients in their favorite junk foods by actually making a pile of salt and sugar, and explaining how excessive amounts of these and other ingredients affect their bodies.

Ms. Jussel also recommended working with the other parents, teachers, coaches and caring adults in a child’s life to consistently counteract negative media messages. Ms. Jussel also offered several tips for food presentation to help make healthy snacks seem fun.