Happy 2020! A new year brings hope and renewed ambition to accomplish the things we’ve been meaning to do. So we motivate ourselves by making New Year’s resolutions, which often center on something like “losing weight,” “eating healthier,” or “exercising more.” If your child is feeling this pressure to take on some body-focused resolution, know that they’re not alone. This U.S. study found that the most popular 2019 resolutions in 34 states involved getting in shape or dieting to lose weight. So with everyone around them getting gym memberships and planning diets for the new year, our kids often feel they must fall in step with the rest of their peers in order to measure up.
The resolutions we make often betray what we value or, at least, what we think we value. Of course, it’s a good thing to want to be healthy and exercise—there are great benefits to healthy habits. But it’s when we do those things for the wrong reasons that we dip into the realm of self-hatred and/or idolatry. Our kids are beautiful in the bodies they have, we know that, but they often don’t believe that. We hope you can speak life into the dark areas in which the enemy has taken hold, and pause to remember what it was once like for you to feel those same pressures of beauty as a teen (or perhaps still experience today).
The reality of shame
There’s one common motivating factor behind dieting and exercise resolutions: shame. And the truth is, that’s right where every diet company, expensive gym, and society wants you. Around this time of year, they fill our heads with the lies that come January 1st, we must make a big change (using their services and products) and waste our money and mental energy on shaming our bodies. What we need to remind ourselves, and our kids, is that just because social media influencers, advertisements, or even our peers tell us we need to change in order to be good enough, doesn’t make it true.
If your kid has decided to take on a new diet or exercise routine this year, take a few minutes to talk with them about that resolution. Our main focus is not to shame them further by advising against the resolution altogether; instead, help them to refocus before diving into a crazy diet that may leave them worse off than before. Start by asking a few guiding questions:
- Why did you choose this resolution?
- Are any of your friends or classmates taking up similar resolutions?
- Is this something you want to do, or do you feel like you have to?
- How can we as a family introduce healthy habits to do together?
Set goals together
When we’re silent, culture gladly fills the void. Instead of letting culture decide what your child’s goals and values are, make it something you can do together so that you can set the right tone. Resolutions don’t have to be negative (e.g. I hate the way I look, so I’ll diet); they can be great opportunities to highlight the positive areas of our lives. This year, as your child prepares to take on a new resolution, encourage him or her to determine what in their lives they value, and how they could better do those things in the new year. Here are a few ideas for setting uplifting goals for the new year:
- Spend more time with friends and family.
- Get involved in a new sport or hobby.
- Make more space for the things you already love to do.
- Start volunteering in something you enjoy (i.e. Sunday school, homeless shelters, community clean up projects).
- Make space for rest and relaxation even in the busiest of schedules.
- (If you want to encourage exercise for good reasons) Bike 5 miles nonstop or Increase my endurance by 20 minutes.
If your child wants to focus on being healthy, this site has a few great starting points, like cleaning up social media feeds and learning to ignore body-obsessed friends. What we really want to emphasize to our kids is that while the new year can come with pressures to conform to what everyone else is doing, we have the freedom to live counter-culturally. Encourage a healthy and well-rounded lifestyle, instead of one that uses guilt and shame as a motivation tool.
Check out our Parent's Guide to Body Positivity for more on societal standards, God's view of our bodies, and ways we can refocus the conversation as parents.