Teens and anorexia: a parent’s worst nightmare
It was an early Tuesday morning and I was making a cream cheese and jelly bagel for my youngest daughter, Marissa, so she could take it to school because we were running late. My oldest daughter, Clarissa, who was twelve at the time, came into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and poured herself a glass of orange juice. I asked him if he wanted a bagel too and he quickly replied, “Oh god no! Do you have any idea how many calories are in those things, Dad? I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I was alarmed enough to share this. with her mother. Later that night we sat down and had a chat with her and she talked about how fat she was. This coming from a 12 year old girl who, at that time weighed only 90 pounds. We stressed the importance of eating right and that all the images I saw on television and magazines were not real. I looked my daughter in the eye and commented that in many places in the world there were children who at 3 in the afternoon still had breakfast, much less worry us for her weight. I mentioned the need to be thankful for what we had, our daily bread as I called it. I really hoped in God that it would all sink in. Fortunately, we never had more problems with her or my other two children on that subject It turns out that that our family has been lucky. Now there appears to be a growing epidemic of eating disorders in the US among ‘preteens’ (children between the infancy and adolescence stage of 9-12 years).
I do not want to eat anything!
Now we fast forward to a few years later. One day I was watching television and suddenly I was very alarmed by the news. The show talked about Tweenorexia; a new problem facing children today. The reporter began to say that more than 80% of 10-year-olds were afraid of gaining weight. You read that right, 80% of TEN-year-olds! My youngest son is now 11 years old, so I sat there and watched the show closely. They were interviewing a girl from Chattanooga, Tennessee named Shae. She was the normal average of ten years. Shae has been on the gymnastics team since she was four years old. Then one day he decided to leave the team to focus on his social life and his studies. A month after leaving her mother, Michele Walker, she began to notice changes in her daughter. Michele would sometimes listen to Shae’s comments while looking in the mirror. He heard her exclaim one day “look how fat I am!
Of course, if you saw her, you’d wonder what she was talking about, as she weighed the normal 85 pounds for her height. Shae, speaking now in the interview, mentions how she often pinched the fat on her stomach. Although it was just skin, in Shae’s mind they were signs of imperfection. Soon after, he refused to eat anything but salads. Then he became obsessed with exercise. Shae began to wear loose clothing to hide her shrunken body and weight from her family and friends. In three months she dropped from her healthy 85 pounds to just 68. Her mother was so alarmed and concerned about her appearance that she took a photo of her in a bathing suit to show her how thin she was. Now only 10 years old, Shae had become anorexic. Only ten years!
As I looked at this little girl, I couldn’t help but look at a photo of my three daughters hanging on the wall in the living room and I shuddered. That could have been, still be one of my girls. I felt the mother’s pain and could only have imagined what I would have done if that had been one of my children.
Dying from being thin; How far will the children go?
It wasn’t long before Shae ended up being hospitalized at an eating disorder clinic. For her, it had become a life or death situation. Shae had to be fed with a feeding tube to slowly regain her normal weight. Here was this little girl who admits to the camera that she was suicidal at age 10. Suicide at age ten? Life is difficult enough for children that they have to deal with weight problems so early in life. After months of therapy at a camp for kids like her, Shae is back to eating healthy. Now, three years later, he remembers everything that happened to him as an adult. He says he no longer has feelings of imperfection. Shae now accepts herself for who she is. This story is haunting, haunting, and surprising. What have we become as a society so that children so young have to go through this?
The truth is, all parents should be concerned because the numbers are shockingly staggering. A recent study of elementary school teachers found that 60% of them say that eating disorders are a problem in their classroom. 16% of eight to eleven year old girls are on a diet! The numbers for young children, although slightly lower, appear to be increasing.
The signs to look for; They could save their son!
Many times, while my daughters were watching television or flipping through magazines, they would talk to each other about how perfect and thin the models or actresses looked. “Real life is not like that,” he often told them, hoping they would assimilate. Desperately trying to help them not feel inferior to the characters they saw on television or in commercials, I brought this message home. However, this is why we, as parents, must listen and be aware not only of what our children see, but also what they think and say. What or who influences your decisions? Some of the first signs of an anorexic teenager are anxiety, depression, and an obsession with perfection. Signs that something may be wrong are a disruption in a child’s normal behavior, personality changes, and / or mood swings. The reserved behavior along with the child becoming withdrawn or overly anxious should be a cause for the alarms to sound. Of course, if he or she insists on taking a shower suddenly after a meal, be aware that this may be a way to mask the purge. Once your son or daughter starts talking about wanting to exclude an entire food group from the menu, pay more attention to them. If you suddenly exercise too much, this should immediately cause a lightbulb to go off in your head. At this point, you should talk to your children and perhaps see a doctor together who can emphasize the importance of eating from all the food groups. Remember that anti-obesity messages in schools can sometimes backfire.
The perfect look. Are TV and magazine ads to blame?
What role do teenage movie stars play?
You will be amazed at what a BIG influence a pop star or teen celebrity can have on the decisions your child can make. I write this article and I shake my head to see how completely deviant we have become as a society. When 8-11 year olds, normal for weight + height, feel the need to diet, it is sad and upsetting. But can we blame then when you see it everywhere? Billboards and TV, movies and video games, magazines and the internet. Especially toys like Barbie dolls, which always seem to have the perfect figure. How many exercise commercials do you see on a typical day? Every image thrown at us always shows the perfect body! The perfect face! Is the film industry to blame? How many teenage movie stars do we see on television looking dangerously thin? Some, as glorifying anorexia. Sometimes their influence outweighs any parenting advice we can give our children. I think we have become obsessed with perfection. No normal adult can compete and deal with it on a daily basis. How? And if we as mature adults can’t deal with it sometimes. How can we ask our children to do it?