Social learning theory, which provides the foundation for behavior modeling, asserts that most behaviors are learned by observation and modeling. The poem ‘Children Learn What They Live’ is based on behavior modeling in the home. As the Guide for the Parenting of Teens site at About.com , I agree with the work of A. Bandura on behavior modeling training and feel it is worthwhile for parents to use it in the home. Parents can feel more empowered when they use these steps of the theory in practice:
- Having the teen must pay attention to the parent as the behavior is performed.
- Allow the teen to process and remember the behavior the parent performed.
- The behavior must then be performed by the teen him/her self.
- The teen should be praised by the parent for performing the behavior, to reinforce it so that it continues to happen.
To firmly grasp the concept of behavior modeling, think about it this way: how many times have you caught yourself sounding just like your parents? That is you modeling their behavior.
An Example of Behavior Modeling
I’ll use teaching your teen a new chore as an example of behavior modeling. Say you want your teen to do a chore that you normally do and you want him/her to complete the task up to par. First you’ll need to show your teen how to do the task, once but twice may be better. Make a list of how it is done in order to remind your teen what is expect. Allow your teen to perform the task without your constant supervision. Praise your teen for completing the chore. Behavior modeling really is that simple - and that complicated. It is mostly done when parents aren’t even paying attention.
The following four steps can facilitate healthier eating habits and increase physical activity:
- Assessing Reality
Before making any personal or environmental changes, take a few minutes to survey your home life. Are sedentary habits and overeating opportunities subtly encouraged? If so, focus on bringing gradual changes into these areas.
For example, how many hours a day does your child watch television or sit at the computer? TV-watching alone accounts for 24 hours a week of sedentary behavior for the average youngster. Log this activity for a week and consider reducing this time by half.
How about meals? Do family members gather around the table, or is most eating "unconscious" and done in front of the TV, computer or while talking on the phone? Try making it a family rule that all food consumption -- including snacks -- must take place at the kitchen or dining room table. This small change has been shown to significantly reduce overeating.
Take a close look at your refrigerator and at your food cabinets. What foods are likely to catch the eye when hunger strikes? If they are high-fat, sweetened and/or low in nutritional value, try stocking healthier alternatives that include fresh fruit and vegetables.
- No Shame, No Blame
No one -- adult, nor child -- can be shamed into losing weight. An overweight youth knows he or she weighs too much. What that young person doesn't know is how to achieve a normal weight and increase self-esteem. Kids want to know that their parents love them unconditionally -- fat, thin or in the middle.
As adults, we must master the fine art of loving our children just the way they are while helping them to achieve healthier bodies. We must learn to "give time, time" and have faith that the lessons we teach will one day come to fruition.
This means we can teach a youngster to visualize a nutritionally "healthy plate" -- one half-filled with salad and vegetables, one-fourth filled with starches and the remaining one-fourth filled with protein, such as poultry, fish, meat or soy -- while knowing that some days he or she will sneak cookies or candy into the house and upset this delicate balance.
We can persist in teaching our children to "see" their plate before they put food on it because this action creates a sense of portion control that is useful when parents are not around to monitor food intake. And it is a tool that is empowering when our children go to a party or sleepover where food is unrestricted.
And yes, we can practice portion control on our own plates and at restaurants.
- Physical Activity as a Family Affair
The Surgeon General's recommendation for moderate physical activity is at least 30 minutes for adults and 60 minutes for children, several days a week. For weight loss, even greater activity may be necessary.
How do members of your family measure against this standard?
An easy and fun way to break the pattern of a sedentary lifestyle is to schedule family activities that involve movement. Not only do such actions burn calories, they can serve as a setting for uninterrupted parent-child communication. In the teen years, such intimate opportunities are often at a premium.
There is little financial cost in going for a walk in the park or riding a bike. Most communities have both indoor and outdoor swimming facilities at nominal fees. The simple act of walking the family dog together in the evening is an activity that not only makes Rover happy but can increase your metabolism.
- Be the Behavior(s) You Want to Encourage
The best tool we have to help our overweight and obese children is our own behavior. It is an old but true adage that kids do as adults do, not as we say.
We cannot ask them to turn off the television when we are watching TV in another room or spending hours surfing the Web. Nor can we tell them to restrict portions when we make no effort to monitor our own food intake at home and at commercial buffets. Why would kids want to drink spring water and munch on carrots while the adults in their life drink sugar-filled soda and chomp on potato chips?
Each step takes us a little further along the road to healthy living. It truly is a one-day-at-a-time process for both parent and child. But the process is well worth the effort.
It’s also important that if you decide to send your child to a weight loss camp, that you choose a camp that has a structured program for family involvement both during and after camp.
By the way, Mrs Furtado did follow the four steps outlined above. It was harder for her (and her husband) to adjust to the new regimen than it was for Stuart. But they all have lost weight (including Sam, their Golden Retriever) and are using the money saved by not buying junk food to take a trip to Disney World.
Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat-Camper Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight, And How Parents Can (And Can't) Help
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