I’m often asked about how to approach food with preteens and teens. Teenagers developmentally need more freedom and independence and being too rigid in feeding can lead to a teen feeling restricted. Restrictive feeding has been shown to interfere with a child being able to use hunger and fullness cues to guide their eating.
On the other hand, our current food culture doesn’t always support teens listening to hunger and fullness. As a parent, sometimes it can feel like people and businesses are always offering food to our children and not in a way that promotes balanced eating. A teen doesn’t yet have the abstract thinking it takes to be totally in charge of their own food, nor the experience. It doesn’t make sense to give teens full reigns of their eating. While we don’t want to feed a teen the same as we would a 3-year-old, we also don’t want to totally hand over the
Kids Learn from Structure
If you follow our writing, you know we use Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding (DOR) as a foundation of the work we do. This gives parents the jobs of “What, When and Where,” when it comes to food, and the child’s jobs of “If and How much.” You can read more about DOR in my previous post. However, as children become older, the goal is for them to gain more skills and independence around eating. Just like any self-care task, we start with more structure and, over time, give them more of the responsibility.
I like to compare how we parent with feeding to how we parent with bedtime. Just like we can’t make our child eat
This is similar to feeding. When a child is young, you decide when meals and snacks are served and what is offered and, over time, this structure gradually changes. It’s important to start to give a teen more responsibility in feeding to help them develop independence long term. Preteens and teens spend more time away from family and may start having their own money and access to food. Also, we want to help our children develop the skills to feed themselves so that they are self