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Originally published Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 5:07 AM

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Parents at wits’ end over couch-potato teen

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax addresses parents’ concerns about a 13-year-old daughter whose only interest is TV.

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Dear Carolyn, I have done researched about diet since 1992 and still am doing it. I ... MORE

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Dear Carolyn

DEAR CAROLYN: I am the father of a 13-year-old daughter who is not very active. She would rather sit on the couch and watch TV than do anything else, whereas most of her friends play sports or do other exercise-related activities. My wife and I are concerned because she has gained 20 pounds over the last 18 months or so.

We have always tried to instill good eating habits and we tell her she needs to exercise more for her overall health rather than weight loss. Unfortunately, she is not very receptive to our suggestions and we have a lot of heated discussions about it.

My wife has talked to the pediatrician to help us discuss this with my daughter. The doctor told my daughter that she needs to exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week. My wife and my daughter recently started going to aerobics classes together two to three times a week, which they both enjoy. The days they don’t do aerobics are causing a lot of friction.

We are at our wits’ end. The ultimate goal is to make sure our daughter leads a healthy, active lifestyle. My biggest fear is that we inadvertently create self-esteem or body-image issues if we are not careful.

— Concerned Dad

DEAR CONCERNED DAD: While you still have the (apparently underused) ability to say, “No TV except (conditions here),” your entire focus needs to be on your daughter’s emotional and intellectual health. How did she get to the point where she has no outside interests or hobbies, no passions, no non-couch activities like “most of her friends”?

Have you encouraged hobbies or skills? Have you equipped her to be an active adult, by providing experience, lessons and/or family togetherness in lifetime pursuits like hiking, biking, tennis, golf, swimming or whatever regional sports you have access to, like surfing, skiing, rowing, climbing?

And, have you equipped her to push herself, explore, try-fail-recover-repeat?

You do not get to decide what your daughter enjoys doing, and those forced aerobics can reap as much resentment as fitness. But you do get to say that sitting around the house being passively entertained is a waste of her gifts, a waste of time, a waste of life. (Sugarcoat as needed.)

You can say your only requirement is that she pursue something. Art, music, books, dance, sports, crafts, volunteer work, paid work (dog-walking, baby-sitting, lawn-mowing) ... ?

After stating your do-something requirement, back off and back it up simultaneously by giving her a choice between a day or two to come up with ideas of her own, or a brainstorming session where you and she think up some possibilities.

Even if your mouths never form the word, aerobics, ellipticals, portion control and snack-policing scream, “FAT.” Your daughter is inert, not stupid, and surely sees through the “active lifestyle” spin.

Maybe she’s ignorant of food-body connections, but her parents don’t seem to understand the relationship between food and boredom (and depression). So please consider a “purposeful lifestyle” goal. A kid who’s occupied and engaged rarely snacks till her clothes give out.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living

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