Teenagers are extremely good at hiding their eating disorders from family and friends. Thus, it is important that parents be able to identify the symptoms of anorexia nervosa and bulimia. These disorders are on the increase and often run in families, as do many psychiatric disorders.
Teens who are anorexic are often high achievers and perfectionists. At the same time, the teen suffers from low self-esteem, believing that he or she is fat, regardless of how thin he or she may really be. Often feeling that they are not in control of many aspects of their lives, the teen with anorexia exerts control when she doesn’t meet the healthy needs of her body. Often these teens will literally starve themselves, pushing food around on a plate, pretending to eat, avoiding family meals or exercising for hours if in fact they have actual eaten more than they think they should have. Teens with bulimia binge on large amounts of food and then purge the food by use of laxatives or self-induced vomiting. Purging threatens the teen’s health by causing dehydration, depletion of important minerals and organ damage.
To raise a child with high self esteem whose confidence is based on what they can do, not what they look like in a culture of digitally altered images of extremely thin celebrities, is a daunting task. But parents remain the most significant influence on a teen, both by modeling behavior and by what they say to the teen.
Here are some ways to help boost your teen’s self esteem:
- Be a good role model. Since eating disorders can run in families, it is important not to obsess about food or appearance.
- Teach your teen to decode media messages. Watch TV or movies together and talk about the images presented on the shows and during commercials. Talk about photo retouching in magazines your teen reads.
- Teach your teen to stand up, for themselves and for the injustices they see and experience around them.
- Encourage sports or other team participation. Teens on teams are more likely to look to one another for validation as opposed to seeking validation from the opposite sex.
- If who your teen is and what he or she does is more valued than what he or she looks like, your praise will reflect that.
- Avoid rescuing your teen from situations in which they are capable of helping themselves. Allowing a teen to struggle a bit on his or her own will strengthen their self-esteem.
- Be realistic. If you are concerned about your teen’s eating behaviors, it is important that you talk with your teen and seek professional help if needed.