Oftentimes, it’s peers who first notice the telltale signs of an eating disorder in a teenager. How can parents help if their teenager notices disordered eating in a peer? We asked Dr. Ellen Rome, a pediatrician and section head of adolescent medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, for some advice.
Your daughter comes home and tells you, “I have a friend who has been vomiting for awhile. She also doesn’t eat anything at lunch, or after school and she’s not looking that good these days. I’m worried about her. I think my friend has an eating disorder.”
What do you do?
What to Do When Your Teen is Worried about a Friend’s Eating Habits:
1. Be an active listener.
Ask open-ended questions that your teen can’t answer with a simple yes or no. Try to find out whether the friend is actually code for, “Mom, I’m too worried to talk to you about this, and I don’t think you’ll handle it well if you knew it was MY problem.”
2. Ask how your daughter wishes to proceed.
Is she looking to sound out her own solutions or hear yours? If she wants your opinion, let her ask. Don’t offer your opinion first; you might just be pleasantly surprised about what she comes up with first. If she does ask for ideas, pose your solution as a question:
Have you thought about (going to the friend’s parents, talking to the friend directly, asking the school guidance counselor?) or What do you think about . . . ?
3. Learn the facts.
You can call your family’s pediatrician and share your concerns if you are worried about your own child. You can also go to sites such as something-fishy.org, aedweb.org, and nationaleatingdisorders.org to find some useful facts. Jim Lock and Daniel Le Grange’s book, Help Your Teenager Beat an Eating Disorder, is also a great how-to manual for tools to re-feed a child/adolescent.
4. Don’t panic.
If it’s your child who’s showing signs of an eating disorder, there’s help available! Start with your pediatrician. Ask them to recommend a program that treats disordered eating using a family-centered, team approach.