I want to be vegetarian but I am afraid my parents will say "no." What can I do to help them see how important this is to me?
You might be surprised to find out that your parents aren't against vegetarianism at all! Mine were completely supportive of my decision, even though I was terrified to tell them. But it would be smart to be prepared, no matter what kind of reaction you expect from your parents.
The first thing you will need to do to convince them that this is important to you is to convince yourself. Why are you going vegetarian? For your health? For the animals? How will it help you or the animals? Research the health benefits or the conditions on factory farms. Gather the facts so that you can tell your parents exactly what bothers you about your current diet and how vegetarianism will improve it. Your parents probably won't be satisfied with a vague explanation, and they might try to talk you out of it. You need to be able to counter their arguments and prove that you know what you are talking about. They may be pleasantly surprised to see that you are passionate about the subject and not just following a fad.
Secondly, you should research vegetarianism itself. Even if you're not going vegetarian for the health benefits, you still need to learn about nutrition. Out of everything that is likely to bother your parents, they will probably be most worried about your health. They might believe that you can't get enough nutrients on a vegetarian diet. Find sources that prove otherwise. Depending on your situation, you may want to stay away from pro-vegetarian literature (such as those from animal rights groups), at least at first. Some parents will be more likely to trust a statement from the American Dietetic Association than one from PETA.
After you find enough information to prove that vegetarianism can be healthy, you need to learn how to be healthy as a vegetarian. It doesn't matter if your meat-eating family dines at McDonald's five days a week—they're still going to want to know where you will get your protein. Learn what nutrients are in meat, and where else you can get them. Draw up a sample menu for a week, complete with nutritional information, so that they can see that your daily requirements are filled. There are some free online programs that can help you do this. MyPyramid.gov is a useful one (use the menu planner to get a rough idea of what is needed and the MyPyramid Tracker for the nutrient details). Fitday, while primarily a dieting tracker, is also good for finding out your daily nutritional intake. Once your parents see that you know what you are doing and that you won't be depriving yourself of needed nutrients, they will be much less worried.
Apart from completely logical worries about your health, your parents might have some reactions that are more difficult to diffuse. They might get emotional or start making arguments that you feel are irrational. It might be tempting to argue back, but the best way to win at making big decisions for yourself is to prove your maturity (even if your parents aren't being mature themselves). Stay calm. Stay logical. Respond to their arguments with facts, not with emotional reactions.
Your family might feel judged or hurt by your decision. You are saying that you believe that meat-eating is wrong—does that mean you think your parents are bad people? Assure them that this is a personal decision, and you won't be judging anyone else for their own beliefs. Your parents might also be hurt that you won't eat the food they cook anymore. Let them know that it is not a reflection of their cooking, and when possible find alternatives to favorite family recipes. When I would no longer eat my mother's chicken noodle soup (a former favorite of mine), we started cooking a nearly identical cabbage soup to replace it. Make sure everyone is clear on what you do and do not eat—your parents might think they are doing you a favor by cooking fish or vegetable soup with beef broth, and will probably be frustrated when you refuse it.
On a similar note, your parents might think that your vegetarianism will be extra work for them. Assure them that this isn't the case. Promise to help with the shopping and to cook your own meals—if you don't know how to cook, promise to learn. Perhaps you could cook a vegetarian meal for the whole family to show them that vegetarian food can be healthy and delicious, and that you are capable of following through.
Once you have convinced your parents that you know what you are doing, give them the opportunity to learn more on their own. Now you can give them brochures from vegetarian organizations, explaining more about the lifestyle. Send them websites on vegetarianism, such as The Vegetarian Resource Group's forum for parents of vegetarian children. If they're still unsure about your decision, bring in outside help. If you know a vegetarian adult, ask him or her to reassure your parents that vegetarianism is safe and healthy. You and your parents can even make an appointment to talk about your diet with a doctor or nutritionist.
When breaking the news to your parents, the most important things to do are to be educated and to treat your parents with utmost respect. By providing them with positive information about vegetarianism and proving your maturity and determination, you will go a long way towards convincing your parents that you are making the right decision in going vegetarian.
Written by Rachael Prokop while doing an internship at VRG