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God's Design for the Highly Healthy Teen
By Walt Larimore Mike Yorkey
ZondervanCopyright © 2005 Walt Larimore
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat Is a Highly Healthy Teen?
If there's one word that describes the emotions of most parents with children entering the teen years, it's fear. Why do parents experience fear? Could it be that before their teen years, our children's lives, health care, schedules, playmates, and values are pretty much under our control? Then, as they pass into the teen years, we realize that, like it or not, their reliance on our direction begins to wane. Just at the time when they're faced with the most life-shaping-and health-threatening-decisions of their lives, we are stuck with the unsettling reality, I cannot control my teen's life and choices!
Fear not. I have great news for you. During the teen years, though you have ever-diminishing control over your teen's life, you will continue to have powerful influence. Once you've finished reading this book and begun to apply its principles, you should see immediate benefits. The fact is, the next few years could actually be not only rewarding but fun!
The teen years rocket by like mileage markers on a long stretch of lonesome Texas highway, and before you know it, youngsters are launched into the college years and beyond. Teens are making critical decisions that will settheir direction for many years to come.
The years between twelve and eighteen are perhaps the most crucial season of raising children. They are years when parents have tremendous influence to adjust and shore up the foundation they've constructed in the early years, as the concrete begins to harden. The teen years are the last opportunity to make sure the foundation is the way it should be. If you're afraid it's too late and your teen is beyond your influence, think again!
Let's take a look at two teens-and the power of parental influence.
When I first saw three-year-old Sarah, two things immediately struck me: she was already significantly overweight, and she was sipping from a baby bottle filled with Coke. At thirty-six months, Sarah tipped the scales at forty-five pounds, which placed her above the 95th percentile range on her growth chart. Most children her age weigh between twenty-seven and thirty-six pounds. Sarah's siblings, as well as her father and various aunts and uncles, qualified as morbidly obese, meaning they weighed one hundred pounds more than the recommended weight for their height.
On this particular afternoon, I gave Sarah the usual checkup and then had a talk with her mother.
"Mrs. Jenkins, I'm concerned about your daughter and her weight problem. As you may know, people who are overweight have a greater probability of having heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. Were you aware that we have classes at the hospital that can teach you how to cook your favorite meals in healthier ways?"
"No, I wasn't, Doctor," she said, but I could tell Mrs. Jenkins was skeptical. After all, many people equate low fat with low taste.
"The classes are held once a month, and our registered dieticians will show you how to cook together as a family, serve smaller portions, and use different ingredients but still eat well. I don't think I have to remind you how important it is to start eating healthier and exercising. Do you exercise, Mrs. Jenkins?"
"Nope," she replied. "We never seem to have enough time."
I took the next ten minutes to explain the importance of exercising more and eating less. By exercising, I didn't necessarily mean pumping iron at the gym. I said that even taking the family to nearby Lake Tohopekaliga several nights a week and walking along the edge of the lake would be a great way to start exercising. I informed Mrs. Jenkins that if Sarah and the family burned off some energy before dinner, it could reduce their appetites and increase their fitness levels. I figured that Sarah was probably watching TV during the late afternoons-a passive activity if there ever was one.
Sarah didn't have to grow up as an obese child. I showed Mrs. Jenkins her growth chart. If Sarah could stay at forty-five pounds through better diet and more physical activity, her age group would eventually catch up with her weight. "And there's another thing you can do, Mrs. Jenkins. You can slowly wean Sarah off the Coke by diluting it with more and more water. All those soft drinks and calories aren't good for her at this age."
For years, I continued to make little suggestions like that to Sarah's mother. I cajoled and pleaded with her and the family to change their heavy-set ways. They didn't budge, so they continued to bulge.
Sarah's first hospitalization for diabetes occurred when she was only eight years old. High blood pressure began at age ten. Her family's inattention and lack of supervision led to asthma, heart problems, and scores of hospitalizations.
I felt sorry for Sarah. She was not only unhealthy physically; she was emotionally unhealthy as well. The schoolyard can be home to cruel comments from other kids, and Sarah's portly physique became the target of barbs from her classmates. "Here comes fatso" was fairly typical, but when the kids asked whether she had an extra Cinnabon in her lunch pail or nicknamed her "Tinky Winky" (after the purple Teletubbie popular on kids' TV), each taunt caused Sarah to retreat further into her shell. She was plagued with a terrible self-image, no inner confidence, and significant adolescent depression. Because of her shyness and the verbal abuse she endured, Sarah never developed any friends at school or in her neighborhood. Home wasn't a safe haven for Sarah. The one sister she was close to had moved away after finishing high school. Her father constantly put her down and, as far as I could see, never provided her encouragement. "You're gonna be the biggest woman in Kissimmee," he would chide her-not realizing how deeply he was wounding her heart. When I would talk to her about it, she bit her lip and tried not to cry. Sarah so wanted a daddy who would love her for who she was. Even when he complimented her, however, it really wasn't a compliment. "I just love it when you cook chicken good-although that's not often enough!" he might tell her. His love was highly conditional, and she never seemed to be able to measure up.
Her father abused alcohol and usually disciplined her out of anger. When Sarah was twelve years old, her father discovered that she had become sexually active-which proved to me that she was desperately looking for love in all the wrong places. When she arrived home that night, he met her at the door and slugged her so hard that her eye swelled shut. He continued to slap her while she curled up in a fetal position on the ground, screaming for help. A neighbor called the police, who gave him a warning, but after the authorities left, he beat her unmercifully. Hence, Sarah was terrified of her father.
Like most obese or overweight teens, Sarah was considered to be lazy when, in reality, physical activity was much more difficult for her than for normal-weight teens. Her excessive poundage stressed her joints and caused moderate knee, ankle, and back pain whenever she tried to exercise.
Last, but not least, Sarah's family had no interest in spiritual things. They didn't participate in any sort of faith community. When I would raise the topic of spirituality with Sarah, she displayed no interest at all. "If there was a God," she commented one time, "I don't think he would have a single reason to love me." No matter what I would share with her, or how I would pray for her, her spiritual eyes seemed shut.
Finally, at the age of fourteen, Sarah's body and soul gave out. Her last admission was for a diabetic coma that led to a massive heart attack and death.
Excerpted from God's Design for the Highly Healthy Teen by Walt Larimore Mike Yorkey Copyright © 2005 by Walt Larimore. Excerpted by permission.
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