Teachers are often the second defense against the discovery and treatment of eating disorders. Of course, when it comes to teen eating disorder awareness, parents and guardians are usually the front line, but often, teachers spend more time with young people than parents do. Because teachers spend so much time with the demographic of people who are most likely to develop eating disorders – young women between 12 and 18 – there are things that teachers should always keep in mind when keeping an eye out for dangerous eating disorders. It is with teachers that eating disorder awareness can be most important in the lives of teens who are struggling with the early stages of an eating disorder.
Here are five important things that both teachers and parents/guardians should remember when confronting the issue of teen eating disorders:
1. Families are not cause of all eating disorders.
While it is possible that a family situation can contribute to the development of an eating disorder, families are unlikely to be the only cause of an eating disorder. Even though families do not cause these diseases, they do need to fight them. And they need your help. Especially during adolescence, trusted teachers can have more positive impact on a child than their parents can. Even if teachers do not have more influence, teens may be more likely to take advice given by a teacher that they trust.
2. Parents want to work with you.
Our first goal is keeping our children healthy and safe. We know that most people are uninformed about eating disorders and would not fault you if you do not know much initially. We want to share what we know and we would like for you to share with us so that everyone is on the same page. Getting help for the teen in question is the priority. And if we can work together, we might be able to get help for him or her sooner.
3. There are signs of eating disorders. Look out for them.
Signs that our teen could have an eating disorder include things like excessive dieting, rapid weight loss, avoiding situations where he or she would need to be eating in public such as lunch time, withdrawing from friends, exercising intensely, and outward signs of self-harm. If you notice any of these signs in our teen, we want to know about it.
4. Talking about diet and weight to your students can be very dangerous.
Teens often look up to teachers and want to be like them. When you exhibit negative self-talk and negative role modeling in relationship to dieting and weight loss, you are giving your students the template for exhibiting this kind of behavior as well. Other kinds of behavior that are not healthy for teens are counting calories, anti-obesity campaigns rather than healthy living campaigns, BMI testing, or keeping food diaries. Instead, be a model of body positivity. Make an effort to appear confident in your body and confident about your body status. Make assignments involving exercise being fun and practicing everything in moderation. You are the role model that teens can follow.
5. Recognize social isolation and do what you can to remedy it.
In the teen years, social isolation is not uncommon. It is clearly not only a symptom of an eating disorder, but it is very common when teens return from treatment. Most educational settings make the social isolation worse which makes the disease worse. During the course of an eating disorder, a teen will isolate him or herself so that no one will find out about the eating disorder. When a teen returns from receiving treatment for an eating disorder, he or she needs to have something to return to. School schedules are not usually very accommodating. Would schools make exceptions for a student who missed school for having mono? Would a school tell a student who was receiving cancer treatments that he or she could not go to the prom because he or she had missed too much school? Would a school tell a student who had been in a car accident that he or she could not participate in graduation? No. And eating disorder treatment is the same thing.