Teens & Anorexia – A Parent’s Worst Nightmare6 min read
It was an early morning Tuesday and I was making a bagel with cream cheese & jelly for my younger daughter Marissa so she could take it to school as we were running late. My oldest daughter, Clarissa, who was twelve years old then, walked in the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and served herself a glass of orange juice. I asked if she wanted a bagel as well and she quickly responded “Oh God no! Have you any idea how many calories are in those things daddy? At the time I did not think much of it, but was alarmed enough to share this with her mother. Later on that night we sat down and had a talk with her and she went on about how fat she was. This, coming from a 12 year old who, at the time weighed only 90 pounds. We stressed the importance of eating right and that all the images she saw on TV and magazines were not real. I looked at my daughter intently in the eyes and I mentioned to her that in many places in the world, there were kids who as of 3 pm in the afternoon had yet to eat breakfast, much less worry about their weight. I mentioned the need to be grateful for what we had, our daily bread as I called it. I truly hoped to God it would all sink in. Luckily, we never really had any more trouble with her or my other two kids on that issue. It turns out our family has been lucky. It now seems there is a growing eating disorder epidemic in the USA among ‘Tweens’ (kid’s between the 9 to 12 years old stage of childhood and adolescence).
I don’t want to eat anything!
Now we fast forward to a few years later. One day I was watching TV and I suddenly became very alarmed by a news report. The show was talking about Tweenorexia; a new problem facing kids today. The reporter began to say that more than 80% of 10 year old’s were afraid of getting fat. You read right, 80% of TEN year old’s! My youngest is now 11 so I sat there and watched the program intently. They were interviewing a little girl from Chattanooga, Tennessee named Shae. She was your average normal ten year old. Shae was in the Gymnastics team since she was four. Then One day she decided to quit the team to focus on her social life and studies. Within a month after quitting her mother, Michele Walker, began to notice the changes in her daughter. Michele would sometimes listen to remarks Shae would say while looking at herself in the mirror. She heard her exclaim one day “look how fat I am!
Of course if you saw her you would 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 would often pinch the fat in her stomach. Although it was just skin, in Shae’s mind they were signs of imperfection. Soon after that she refused to eat anything but salads. She then became obsessed with exercising. Shae started to wear baggy clothes to hide her shrinking frame & weight from her family and friends. In three months she dropped down from her healthy 85 pounds to just 68. Her mother became so alarmed and concerned with the way she looked that she took a photo of her in a swimsuit to show her just how thin she gotten. Now at just 10 years old, Shae had become an anorexic. Just ten years old!
As I looked at this little girl I could not help but glance over to a photo of my three daughters hanging in the living room wall 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 had that been one of my kids.
Dying to be thin; How far will kids go?
It wasn’t long before Shae had to end up being hospitalized in an eating disorder clinic. For her, It had become a life and death situation. Shae had to be fed with a feeding tube to be slowly brought back to her normal weight. Here was this little girl who admits on camera that she was having thoughts of suicide at just 10. Suicide at age of ten? Life is hard enough for kids for them to have to deal with weight issues so early on in life. After months of therapy in a camp for kids like her, Shae is back to eating healthy. Now, three years later, she looks back at everything that happened to her with the experience of an adult. She says that she no longer has feelings of imperfection. Shae now accepts herself for who she is. This story is both disturbing, troubling and amazing. What have we become as a society that kids this young have to go through this?
The truth is all parents need to be concerned because the numbers are frighteningly staggering. A recent study of elementary school teachers found that 60% of them are saying that eating disorders is a problem in their class room. 16% of girls from age’s eight to eleven are dieting! The numbers for little boys, though slightly lower, appears to be rising.
The signs to look for; They could save your child!
Many times as my daughters watched TV or browsed through magazines they would talk among themselves about how perfect and thin the models or actresses all looked. “Real life is not that way” I would often tell them hoping it would sink in. Desperately trying to help them not to feel inferior to the characters they watched on TV or saw in ads I drove this message home. Nevertheless, it is because of this that we as parents need to listen and be aware of not only what our kids are watching, but what are they thinking and saying. What or whom is influencing their decisions? Some of the early signs of an anorexic teen 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. Secretive behavior along with the child becoming withdrawn or overly anxious should be a cause for alarms bells to be going off. Of course if he or she insists on suddenly taking a shower after a meal, be advised.. this may be a way to mask purging. Once your son or daughter begins to talk about desiring to leave out an entire food group from the menu pay closer attention to them. If he or she is suddenly exercises too much, this should cause a light bulb to immediately go off on your head. At this point you should talk to your kids and maybe see a doctor together who can stress the importance of eating from all food groups. Remember that anti obesity messages in schools could sometimes backfire.
The Perfect Look. Are TV & Magazine Ads to blame?
What role do teenage movie stars play?
You will be surprised to see the HUGE influence some pop star or teen celebrity can have in the choices your child may make. I write this article and I shake my head to see how completely off track we have gotten as a society. When 8 to 11year old’s, normal by weight + height standards, feel the need to go on diets it is sad and disturbing. But can we blame then when you see it everywhere? Billboards and TV, movies and video games, magazines and the internet. Specially toys like barbie dolls, who always seem to have the perfect figure. How many exercise commercials do you see on a normal day? Every single image that is thrown our way is always displaying the perfect body! The perfect face! Is the movie industry to blame? How many teenage movie stars do we see on TV looking dangerously thin? Some, as if glorifying anorexia. Sometimes, their influence outweighs any parenting advice we may give to our kids. I believe we have become obsessed with perfection. No normal Adult can compete and deal with that on a daily basis. How? And if we, as mature adults cannot deal with it at times. How can we ask our kids to do so at all?