I got a Facebook message from a friend the other day that her 14 year old daughter was now on the quest for six pack abs. That led me to go online and conduct some research to see what was out there in terms of advice for parents concerned about their children’s obsession with six pack abs and advice geared toward this age group to support them on this quest. What I found made me a little sick. There were numerous 12 to 14 year old seeking advice on how to get six pack abs and the answers they were getting were deplorable. So FYI, if your teen is looking for six pack abs or if you are a teen seeking six pack abs do not search by your age and six pack abs on the internet. You will not be finding the most reliable sources. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that pretend to be experts on the Internet just to make a buck. There are also a lot of reputable people, but you have to do your homework.
Since I do not have kids, I started to think back about myself at age 12, 13 and 14. I was probably around 11 when I started thinking about dieting and realizing I was a bit on the chunky side. I joined the gym at 16 and started lifting weights. I also yo yo dieted through junior high and high school, so I had my thinner years and my chunkier (is that a word?) years. I never thought about six pack abs though. I don’t remember friends thinking about six pack abs either. We more or less back in the day, wanted to be thin. I remember wanting thinner thighs, so maybe that was my version of six pack abs. I am thankful I never developed an eating disorder and I majored in Nutrition and Exercise in college. That put an end to my crazy dieting and probably saved my metabolism from many more years of abuse.
So what is a parent to do if their pre-teen or teen wants six pack abs? The way I see it, there are two ways this can go. Your teen could end up healthy and fit or with a warped sense of body image or worse, an eating disorder. I know I went on many unhealthy diets when I was in this age group. I restricted my calories too low numerous times in my quest to be thin. I was doing the best I could with the knowledge I had about losing weight at that time. Your teen will do the same. So the #1 thing you can do is SUPPORT THEM. Now how do you go about doing that when you are concerned they may end up with an eating disorder or hurting themselves doing crazy exercises.
Here is what I would do if it were my child?
1. I already told you this, but support them. Arm them with the right information from a reputable source. You may want to consider hiring a trainer or a coach like me to educate them on what they can do at a particular age. It’s key that they understand it’s not just about six pack abs, it’s about being healthy and fit. It’s about the entire body. They need to be taught the importance of core strength. They need to understand that at their age, they are still growing, so exercises that are applicable for an adult will not always apply to them. People in this age group need to do higher reps, less weight and not as many sets of an exercise for example. I don’t want to offend parents, but I remember this was around the age I decided my parents didn’t know everything and I knew some stuff. That being said, your child is more likely to listen to an expert.
2. Pay attention to what they are eating. My friend also mentioned that her daughter’s friend was taking in a lot of protein shakes. It sounded as though that teen equated the protein shakes with the six pack abs. Protein shakes aren’t all bad, but your teen and you for that matter, should get most of your nutrients from whole foods. Again, I would be slow to advise your child not to drink them at all. I just know sometimes we do the opposite of what Mom and Dad want.
3. I would also take a hard look at celebrities your teen looks up to or wants to look like. Boy, I could write an entire post or book on this one. So many celebrities and models are rail thin. I would not call them healthy or fit. In fact, as I am writing this I am trying to think of one I could mention as a good role model for health and fitness and can’t think of one. I am sure there are many, just not coming up with one at the moment. Not everyone is naturally rail thin. I remember when I was 14, I wanted to be that thin. Genetically, I am not made to be a size 0-1. Okay you can fight me on this. I have said this numerous times and had people think I am wrong and all kinds of crazy, but I think Victoria Secrets commercials are damaging for young girls. They put a vision in a girls mind of what beauty and perfection are. You can disagree with me, that’s fine. But I know I’m right, tee hee.
4. Last but not least, be very careful about the messages you are sending to your child at all ages. Don’t let your child see you pinching the fat on your stomach in front of the mirror. Be a role model, maybe it’s time you take your fitness and nutrition more seriously. If you are a yo yo dieter, stop it! Make it a goal to get the entire family more active and eating healthier. I absolutely squirm every time someone tells me how since they are eating healthy, they have to make their family a separate meal. So your kids and husband can build artery clogging plaque and be on their way to Type II Diabetes while you are getting healthy? Here’s the deal, taste buds take time to adapt to new flavors. Slowly start making healthy changes. Don’t do everything at once, your family will hate you. But a minor tweak here and there won’t be too noticeable. If your kids start eating healthier now, they are less likely to develop eating disorders or be a heavy adult.
As usual, I started talking about one thing and went all over the map. Hope this was helpful!
Please drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or make a comment if your child is obsessed with six pack abs.I may put something together for teens on this subject. I want to get some good information out to them, after reading what is currently out there.
Now go do a set of crunches while you have abs on your mind! 3 sets of 25! GO!