Teenagers can be a particularly difficult breed of person. They are fighting a constant uphill battle to become the adults that they are eventually going to be. While they expect to be treated as adults and behave like adults, they are anything but. They need difference kinds of love and support than is needed by the average adult. Add in a teenage eating disorder and everyone is going to be at wit’s end trying to figure out what to do. It is easy for you and everyone else in your family to get wrapped up in your teen’s eating disorder, but there are some things that you should stop doing immediately in order to be the best help possible for your teen and for yourself.
Here are five things NOT do to if you are dealing with a teenage who has been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
1. Do not blame yourself.
There are many complicated causes of eating disorders and many factors to contribute to their manifestation. But you cannot put the blame entirely on yourself. It is unreasonable to think that you had nothing at all to do with this illness that your teen has, but it is unlikely that you are the only factor involved. When your teen is getting help, check in with his or her counselor to see if there are any specific attitudes or actions that you can alter on your own that would be helpful in the future or that may have contributed to this eating disorder.
2. Avoid being overly critical.
Adding your criticism to the self-criticism that your teen is taking on will only add to the shame and guilt they are experiencing in relationship to their eating disorder. However, being overly indulgent can be damaging too. You must learn to walk the fine line of being supportive without being critical and being helpful without being too indulgent. It is a difficult line to draw. Take your cue from your teen. If you notice that something you have said has been taken the wrong way, clear it up immediately. Ask your teen what you can do differently.
3. Stop dieting immediately.
The current culture of dieting is very harmful to our children. Your teen needs to be surrounded by healthy examples. They need to know that they can have a healthy relationship with food and with their own bodies. If you are dieting while your teen is recovering from an eating disorder, it sends the wrong message. Set a positive example by cultivating a healthy body image. Get a healthy amount of exercise, but do not obsess over it. Make healthy food choices. Lead by example. If you have your own problems with body image and your relationship to food, another good example to set could be getting help for yourself.
4. Asking “Why?” is not really going to help you or your teen.
There are any number of factors that could have contributed to this eating disorder. Most likely, it is a combination of factors that have built up over time and manifested in this way. Genetic factors, personality traits, media influences, stressors, and peer influences can all be partial causes of an eating disorder. There is no simple or easy answer to the question of why your teen has an eating disorder. The most important thing is to focus on the treatment and the recovery. It is likely that the treatment your teen receives will unravel some of the causes and correct them. Regardless of whether or not you have concrete reasons, your teen will be getting the help he or she needs.
5. Do not lose your patience.
Recovery from an eating disorder takes a long time. Your teen is going to be dealing with some complicated issues that cannot be untangled overnight. He or she is going to need a lot of help, from a trained counselor, from friends and family, and from you. Getting impatient with how long treatment takes is not particularly productive. It can really make a difficult situation harder than it already is. If things are not progressing as you had hoped, talk to your teen’s treatment team rather than talking to your teen. He or she might perceive that he or she has done something wrong or is in some way substandard. This is the last thing you want as it will delay real healing even further.