During adolescents a teenager faces large amount of pressure concerning a variety of issues. From academics to social issues, teenagers are often finding themselves feeling the weight of demands from the world around them. The decision to become a vegetarian should not be one of these pressures. Vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice that should be up to an individual, and a parent’s role involving the decision of a teenager should only involve sentiments of love and support.

A Difficult Transition for the Family

A major complication may arise if your son and daughter choose to be the only vegetarian in the household. Firstly, if there is no communication about this transition, then tensions may arise over food choices that are stocked and prepared in the home. Teenage vegetarians are often faced pressures from parents concerned about their vegetarian lifestyle impact on their health. A teen that shows a strong commitment to preparing their own foods can make parents more willing to purchase vegetarian food. If one has trouble convincing their parents that a vegetarian lifestyle can be a good choice, read this statement made by the American Dietetic Association:

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle”

It is important, that once your child conveys to you his or her desire to become a vegetarian that you discuss how this food choice change may impact the entire family. As a parent you should take the time to educate yourself about vegetarianism and some of the alternatives to eating meat as protein. Talk to your child and the rest of the family to decide how you can work together to accommodate everyone’s eating habits. Try to avoid criticizing your teen’s decision in front of everyone, which may cause an uncomfortable rift to develop in your relationship when he or she decides to become a vegetarian regardless of your opinion. Include your child in making the grocery shopping list, or come up with certain compromises on which meals he or she will prepare for him/herself. You could also create a sample diet with your teen over the course of a week or month. Select vegetarian books and recipes to find vegetarian dishes that will appeal to your teen, using ingredients that he or she already likes.

Eating Disorders and Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism definitely has many healthy benefits; however some studies have suggested that teens that have image problems and eating disorders may be more likely to turn to vegetarianism in order to lose weight. It seems that a significant number of kids experiment with a vegetarian diet as a way to mask an eating disorder, since it’s a socially acceptable way to avoid eating many foods and one that parents tend not to oppose. A study, led by nutritionist  Ramona Robinson-O’Brien, an assistant professor at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Minnesota, found that while adolescent and young adult vegetarians were less likely than meat eaters to be overweight and more likely to eat a relatively healthful diet, they were also more likely to binge eat. Although most teens in Robinson-O’Brien’s study claimed to choose vegetarianism to be healthier, save the environment, and the world’s animals, the research suggests they may be more interested in losing weight than protecting cattle or swine. The authors of the study suggest that parents and doctors should be extra attentive when teens suddenly become vegetarians. Although teens may say they’re trying to protect animals, they may actually be trying to camouflage some unhealthy eating behaviors.

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