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Kids need to gain weight during adolescence. Here’s why

Editor’s Note: Michelle Icard is the author of several books on raising adolescents, including “Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen.”


I’ve worked with middle schoolers, their parents and their schools for 20 years to help kids navigate the always awkward, often painful, sometimes hilarious in hindsight, years of early adolescence.

Most of the social and development stretch marks we gain during adolescence fade to invisibility over time. We stop holding a grudge against the kid who teased us in class for tripping, or we forgive ourselves our bad haircuts, botched friendships and cringy attempts at popularity.

But one growing pain can be dangerously hard to recover from, and ironically, it’s the one that has most to do with our physical growth.

Children are supposed to keep growing in adolescence, and so a child’s changing body during that time should not be cause for concern. Yet it sends adults into a tailspin of fear around weight, health and self-esteem.

Kids have always worried about their changing bodies. With so many changes in such a short period of early puberty, they constantly evaluate themselves against each other to figure out if their body development is normal. “All these guys grew over the summer, but I’m still shorter than all the girls. Is something wrong with me?” “No one else needs a bra, but I do. Why am I so weird?”

But the worry has gotten worse over the past two decades. I’ve seen parents becoming increasingly worried about how their children’s bodies change during early puberty. When I give talks about parenting, I often hear adults express concern and fear about their children starting to gain “too much” weight during early adolescence.

Constant messages about being thin may overexpose kids to unrealistic health and wellness ideals.

Parents I work with worry that even kids who are physically active, engaged with others, bright and

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Child mental illness rates are skyrocketing. This expert shares crucial tips and red flags for parents.

Mental illness is twice as common in children as asthma, notes child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Susan Swick. And yet many parents find it harder to grasp the best ways to address, prevent, and access treatment for mental illness in children.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one in six children in the United States had a diagnosed mental illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, a number that rose sharply over the past decade, exacerbated as the pandemic wore on.

“There are emergency flares going up on the mental wellbeing of our children, teenagers and young adults,” said Swick, who works with children, teens and their families as director of Ohana Center for Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health in Monterey County, Calif. “Parents and teachers and other caring adults in the orbits of children are asking for support on this, and we need to listen.”

While much attention has been paid to the decline in mental health among teens, elementary-age children are also struggling.

The average age of onset for an anxiety disorder – the most common type of mental illness that crops up in childhood – is 7, said Swick.

Catching early signs of a mental health issue in childhood can prevent it from spiraling into a crisis during adolescence or young adulthood

“In my heart of hearts, I am very hopeful that although the current situation is concerning, I think good news is hidden in there: If we see rates of mental illness can go up, that means a lot of those are preventable and can come down,” said Swick.

“With early identification and evidence-based treatment (for mental illness), around 75% of kids will go into remission and not need treatment again.”

Reckon spoke with Swick about how parents should think about mental health

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