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Ask a Pro: Teenage daughter over-exercising

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Ask a Pro: Teenage daughter over-exercising

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Ask a Pro: Teenage daughter over-exercising

I have a 13yo daughter that I'm starting to get a little bit concerned about. She is competitive, obsessive, stubborn and quite the risk taker, and while these traits have lead to her being a very intrinsically driven individual, she is starting to overdo it and create problems for herself. She runs cross country, but we live on a property in Central QLD so she doesn't have access to a sports coach or team etc, and neither her father nor I ever did formalised, structured or competitive sports so we've got no idea what we're doing. Instead, she chooses her own running/strength workout from a pretty hefty database she has made up/collected from events and training camps. She sees other kids on Fridays for a sports club afternoon during school term and sometimes stays over/kids stay over here on the weekends, so she isn't short on social time (she refuses to go to a boarding school, which is what most kids her age do out here).

The issue now is that this kid literally won't take a break. She'll go for a run/workout 2-3 times a day, everyday of the week. I don't know how to control her. I tell or ask her to not go out, we've explained overtraining to her, we've explained that if she's sore, she needs to rest, we've showed her videos. I know she's at an age where they start to rebel and do the opposite of what you tell them. But I'm seriously concerned she's going to hurt herself. I've tried to ask her why she won't break. She just says that she doesn't want to, or that she wants to be good, or it feels wrong to miss a session. I know I should be happy that she's not a kid that's stuck inside doing nothing, but she is becoming overly obsessive with it. I'm not sure what to do with her.

Is there someone I should see? Should I take her to see? Or should I just be putting my foot down and saying no and don't allow any other option? Should we just try to fill up her day so that there isn't time to train on some days? We could literally take her for a roadtrip on the weekend and she'll still find a way to get two runs in somewhere. Her father has tried getting her to write a weekly training plan and slowly cutting back on how much she runs, but she won't hear about it (she can be very stubborn). This probably sounds like a sports problem but I think it's more a coming of age and her learning to manage her expectations and limitations, but I don't know how to help her figure them out before she hurts herself.

There haven't been any other behavioural changes, she's still keen to help with chores, happily has second servings at mealtimes, there's no secretiveness around eating and she doesn't really have social media.

She fractured her ankle at the start of the year (maybe February?), tripping on a run. I only found out when i noticed the bruising when she went swimming (she wore socks otherwise) and took her to a GP then. They talked to her about overtraining but I'm not sure it really had much of an affect at all. Is there something else they can do? Our closest GP is a few hours away, but I'm happy to take her (she probably won't be happy to go).

She has a health teacher (she is distance ed), and he has tried to encourage a few rest days etc., gone through what healthy exercise and activity is, but again, she just ignores it all (she can be very stubborn once she's got an idea in her head).
My laptop doesn't have a microphone or webcam, is it possible to engage with someone via a chat situation?


Hi @KR5555,

You’re obviously a very caring and attentive parent, and it is understandable that you are feeling worried about your daughter. Exercise can be a wonderful habit to support physical wellbeing, but any activity when done too much and in an inflexible way can be harmful, as you have noticed.

It’s great to hear that you have already taken some steps to address your concern by providing her with information about the risks of over-training, and when the behaviour continued by asking her why she feels she cannot take a break from training, as well as by asking her to change her behaviour.

Even though she hasn’t been willing to stop training so much, you’ve actually done a great job with your initial response. By trying these initial approaches, it’s helped provide some information about what might be happening.

Based on your daughter saying that she wants to be good or that it feels wrong to miss a session, it seems that exercising is connected with how your daughter is feeling emotionally or with her sense of self-worth at the moment, rather than it being based simply on enjoyment.

It also sounds like she is generally willing to do things that you ask of her (given you haven’t mentioned any other issues with her behaviour). So, the fact that she has not been willing to stop or reduce training also suggests that it is a sign something is going on emotionally for her.

Understanding what this means for your daughter in detail and whether she has an underlying mental health concern is something which would require an assessment from a mental health professional (such as a psychologist). This is because a particular behaviour can mean different things for different people, and working out how a pattern of behaviour fits together to give a picture of someone’s emotional wellbeing is something that a mental health professional can do.

This would also allow the professional to identify the most helpful options from here - addressing the underlying cause of the behaviour can help your daughter feel able to reduce her exercise. This could involve therapy for your daughter, but could also include providing you and her father with personalised advice on how you can best support her.

Most mental health professionals do tele-health, but talking to the GP for a referral is a good first step. It’s important to let the GP know what is worrying you about your daughter’s behaviour, so that they can understand your concerns and help work out the best options.

In the meantime, one of the best things you can do is keep the lines of communication open. It’s really fantastic to hear that your daughter’s behaviour in general hasn’t changed and she still does chores, eats regular meals and socialises with friends. These all indicate positive things about her wellbeing.

Sometimes when a teen is engaging in behaviour which is worrying to parents, they can begin to withdraw a little from their parents because they don’t want to have continued conversations where the parent is trying to get them to change. It can be really helpful to consider whether there are positive or even neutral topics other than exercise that you and your daughter can talk about, and to take the opportunity to have positive and friendly conversations as much as possible, or to do enjoyable activities together.

I know that this is a challenging and worrying situation for you. It seems like you’ve been doing a great job so far, and seeking help early as you are doing is a really positive sign.

Best wishes,


Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.