Born and bred a British, Shamima, 17, is all about creativity and self-expression. She wishes to pursue a career in Medicine and pursue her interests in poetry, fashion, writing and maybe in the distant future, property development.
So you have noticed that your teen anxiously avoids over-eating, or is that eating all together? No matter what you say or do, you cannot by force or by persuasion get them to eat. Then come the complaints from school that he/she cannot concentrate in class, sometimes falling asleep with fatigue, other times fainting. And it isn’t long until the physical impacts begin to show, huge loss of weight, yellowing skin, and obvious signs of weakness and fatigue. Even their personalities seems to have altered, they are consistently angry and irritable and very secretive.
This is probably where alarm bells start to go off, and terrified parents take every measure to snap their teens out of it. But before you started throwing cautions of [female] loss of fertility, and death their way there are a few things parents must understand in order to effectively approach this complex issue.
1. Your teen is suffering not rebelling
Why are they doing this to themselves? Why are they doing this to us? Why won’t they stop it? Frustrated questions that lead you only to believe that your teen is being selfish and perhaps they are, just a little bit but that is not even the tip of the iceberg. They are not rebellion against you; rather they are battling against themselves.
The teen’s view: Teens are trapped in their minds, they so wish they could break away from constantly hating themselves, constantly feeling down and depressed, and they wish so much that everyone would stop making such a big fuss, following them, watching what they eat and so on.
2. Anorexia is a psychological condition with physical symptoms.
It should be straight forward, shouldn’t it? By getting your teen to eat just a bit more, it should make everything okay. But the problem does not lie there; it roots from the mind and that is where we must focus our attention. Anorexia is suggested to be an issue of control, whereby the sufferer feels they have little or no control over their lives and discover a method of achieving it by restricting their food intake.
Where does this feeling of a lack of control come from?
One hypothesis suggests that parents play a significant role. Parents who are very firm and overprotective, who dictate every aspect of their teens lives from friends, what they do in their free time to careers and post-school plans do not allow for their teens to make decision regarding their own lives. A reason why this could have such a devastating impact is the fact that teens are evolving into young adults, and they are bursting at the seams with a desire for independence, just as any adult. To put this into perspective, imagine how you would feel if your parents pulled all the strings in your family life and you had no control over your home, your children etc. Nightmare, right? While it is hard to believe, teenagers feel exactly the same in a slightly different context!
Another cause may be depression. My teen isn’t depressed! I hear you cry. Teens are super secretive; they don’t want to show anyone that they are struggling even if they are drowning in the deepest depths of depression. Sometimes they don’t even realize they are depressed, that’s just life isn’t it? And to parents – well, teenagers are always moody aren’t they?
Being able to control their food intake, even the pains of hunger pangs could give that all desired feeling of relief and satisfaction.
The teen’s view: A lot of the time the teen is confused as to why they act or react is a certain way, they just do it!
3. Pushing and prodding will only make them sink deeper.
Teens who are suffering from anorexia are extremely defensive, everything you say or do portrays as an attack on them. So the more that you try to outwardly intervene and help them, the more they will shut you and distrust you, not to mention fight back by opposing everything you suggest.
All in all, fighting anorexia directly will only worsen the situation.
The teen’s view: As if they aren’t feeling awful as it is, now everyone is turning against them.
How to approach anorexia:
1. Start with being supportive
They clearly do not want to eat the food you keep placing in front of them; just the sight of it may make them heave. Your concern is that they are not getting the nutrients that they require, so multivitamins are a start.
Help them to find the food that is easiest for them to eat as well as providing them a bigger range of nutrients.
2. Friends are the most welcome ears
With anorexia being psychological and therefore very personal, teens may hesitate and hold back from talking to you. As they tend to talk more openly to close friends, try to get them into the picture. Ask your teen whether they want to talk to friends or not before mentioning anything. But beware that not all friends are ideal when discussing such sensitive issues.
What this will mean, however, is that although your teen may be opening up, you will still be none the wiser.
3. Address the cause
If you can identify areas where teens are lacking control, try to give them that control. Assure them that they are allowed to make decisions for themselves, which further comes with responsibility and that you are always there to support them if they require it.
If you feel depression may be the cause, help them to explore their problems in order to understand themselves better and overcome it. Writing, art and music are fantastic mediums but your teen will probably have their own ideas in mind.
Bring it up on every occasion
Force feed them
Keep mentioning hospitalisation and death
Treat them like a ‘bad’ or ‘problematic’ person
Assess them every chance you get
Give the impression that you do not trust them
However, if it feels as though your teen’s condition is deteriorating do not hesitate to seek professional help!
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