Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sue Scheff - Teen Eating Disorders

As the holidays are here, parents should be aware of their teens and tweens concerns with body image. Today’s peer pressure compounded with Internet Images of what a teen should look like, can add stress and frustration to a young teen (both girls and boys).

Eating Disorders can sometimes be hard to recognize. As a parent, it is important to be informed and know the warning signs.

Here is a great article from Connect with Kids from this week’s parenting articles and tips:

“I would never want to look at one. I think that would be really depressing to tell you the truth.”
– Mary Hardin, 14 years old

What Mary doesn’t want to see, to millions others is just a few key words and mouse clicks away.

“Who’s the skinniest and how can they stay the skinniest (or) here’s how you can have only one thing to eat all day or how you can survive on water and gum,” explains Bryna Livingston, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in eating disorders.

Livingston is referring to pro-anorexia websites – where girls are applauded for losing weight and surviving hunger – that are emerging on the Internet. On many such sites, anorexics journal thoughts and feelings and even post pictures of their thin celebrity idols.

“It’s a pseudo-support group, and the problem is you’re not really getting support,” says Livingston. “You’re feeding a competition. You’re feeding a disease, and you’re feeding what you want to hear so you don’t have to make any changes.”
For Mary Hardin, change was hard. She struggled with anorexia for three years. These websites, she says, spell danger. “I think (the websites) could have really made me worse and (made me) fall more into my eating disorder and encouraged me more,” she says. “That’s the last thing I needed was to be encouraged to be in an eating disorder.”

Experts say parents of anorexics have to show tough love, especially if their child is being enticed by these Internet sites. “I’d turn off the computer. I’d get it out of the house,” says Livingston.

Mary’s advice: “Listen to who you trust. Do you trust your family and your friends, or do you trust these people (on the Internet) that you don’t even know that are trying to give you lessons about your life?”
Luckily, Mary avoided the lure of anorexia websites when she was struggling with her illness. After years of therapy and family support, she says she is now healed. “It is possible to recover and to be a healthy girl with a happy life after it all,” she says. “There is hope to get through it.”

Tips for Parents

Many dangerous places exist in cyberspace, especially for those with body image difficulties. A quick, easy Google search can produce a long list of pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites – places where those who suffer from eating disorders (ED) support each other and establish a sense of community. There are at least 100 active pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia sites. Some statistics state that several of these sites have accumulated tens of thousands of hits. Many sites treat eating disorders as lifestyle choices, rather than the illnesses they truly are. Most personify anorexia (“Ana”) and bulimia (“Mia”) into companions – individuals one can look to for guidance and strength.

The medical community classifies eating disorders as mental illnesses. Experts say girls with eating disorders focus on their bodies in a misguided bid to resolve deeper psychological issues, believing that they can fix their inner troubles by achieving a perfect outside. Eating disorder specialists say pro-anorexia sites are particularly dangerous since those suffering from the disease are usually in deep denial and cling to the illness to avoid dealing with its psychological underpinnings. Websites that glorify eating disorders make treatment increasingly difficult.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

There are an estimated 7 million females and 1 million males suffering from eating disorders in the United States.

The Harvard Eating Disorders Center estimates that 3 percent of adolescent women and girls have anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorders.

Four-of-five 13-year-old girls have attempted to lose weight.

One study showed that 42 percent of first- through third-grade girls want to be thinner.

About 1 percent of females between 10 and 20 have anorexia nervosa. Between 2 percent and 3 percent of young women develop bulimia nervosa. Almost half of all anorexics will develop bulimia or bulimic patterns.Without treatment, up to 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders die. With treatment, the mortality rate falls to 2 to 3 percent. The recovery rate with treatment is about 60 percent. Alas, only 10 percent of those with eating disorders receive treatment.

Pro-ED sites are just one reason why parents need to monitor children’s online behavior. In the web journals or logs (blogs) of these sites, users share near-starvation diets, offer tips for coping with hunger and detail ways to avoid the suspicions of family members. They post “thinspiration” – images from the media of their ideal celebrities, such as supermodel Kate Moss and the Olsen twins. They discuss extreme calorie restriction and weight loss through laxatives, diet pills and purging (self-induced vomiting).

Between the ages of 8 and 14, females naturally gain at least 40 pounds.

More than half of teenage girls are – or think they should be – on diets.

Websites were changing the very culture surrounding eating disorders, making them more acceptable to girls on and off the Internet.

Pro-ED sites thrive off the denial aspect of the illnesses while promoting the perceived benefits of having an eating disorder.


Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc.
Harvard Eating Disorders Center
The National Institute of Mental Health
Socialist Voice of Women
South Carolina Department of Mental Health

I also recommend you visit a survivor of Eating Disorders, Lori Hanson’s website at and check out her book, It All Started with Pop-Tarts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sue Scheff - Parent Training

“If we can help parents do a better job at parenting, then you’ll see less and less of children acting out because … acting out is really a symptom usually of what’s happening in the home.”

– Alesia Brooks, area director for Community Solutions, Inc.

Fighting, stealing, lying, cruelty- some psychologists call all of this a “conduct disorder” and according to the American Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry, one in 10 teen girls suffers from the disorder. What’s more, some experts say many of these girls share one thing in common: parents who resist being a parent.

“If we can help parents do a better job at parenting, then you’ll see less and less of children acting out because … acting out is really a symptom usually of what’s happening in the home.”
-- Alesia Brooks, area director for Community Solutions, Inc.

One approach to treating violent teens is gaining popularity across the country. It’s called multi-systemic therapy. The goal is to change the teen – by starting with the parent.

Last year, during a fight with her older sister, 16-year-old Angela pulled a knife. Angela says, “I wasn’t going to hurt her or nothing. I guess I was just threatening her with it.”

Angela was arrested and a judge recommended multi-systemic therapy. A therapist came to the house for five months. But instead of counseling Angela, he focused on her mom.

“Mom had no rules, so Angela didn’t know left from right, right from wrong,” says Alesia Brooks, an area director of home-based services for Community Solutions, Inc., a licensed provider of multi-systemic therapy. “She just did whatever she wanted to do. And if there was a conflict, then the conflict was managed through yelling and screaming.”

First, the counselor helped Angela’s mom Cecilia write a list of rules. Cecilia says, “Well, it was kind of, I had to get used to it myself, to enforcing the rules. And I noticed [having] the rules was much better.”

“If we can help parents do a better job at parenting,” says Brooks, “then you’ll see less and less of children acting out because the children acting out is really a symptom, usually of what’s happening in the home.”

“I was just kind of used to arguing,” adds Angela, “like kind of like how a child would throw a tantrum and get what they want. That’s kind of like how I was doing it when I was 13, 14, 15. And then when [the therapist] came in, he kind of made it that I couldn’t do it no more!”

The idea? Change the parent – and you will change the child.

Brooks says, “We don’t want to be the agent for change because we’re gone, we are not going to be there for the lifetime, the parent will be.”

Cecilia says the therapist helped her listen more, and yell less. “He taught me to communicate, calm down. We talk and try to solve the problem.”

Tips for Parents

When parents run into problems with a cranky toddler or a difficult teen, they now have a new place to turn for help – a parent coach. According to the Parent Coaching Institute, these individuals are trained with a broad background of education and experiences. Making themselves available by phone, they ask key questions, provide information and offer specific suggestions to help parents address challenges and develop new strategies for dealing with problems at home.

How do you know if parenting coaching is right for your family? Heritage Communications, which offers support and coaching services to families, cites the following types of parents who could benefit from hiring a parent coach:

Parents of older adopted children
Parents of challenging children
Parents dealing with adoption adjustment issues
Parents of children with RAD (reactive attachment disorder)
Parents looking for new parenting techniques to use with their children
Parents who don’t have a support system that truly understands the issues
Parents feeling overwhelmed

Parents taking their children to therapy but in need of parent support

Power struggles with teens are not uncommon. Whether or not you have a parent coach for support, as a parent, it is your responsibility to diffuse the situation in a calm manner. Jane Nelson, author of Positive Discipline, offers parents the following advice for reducing power struggles within the home:

After realizing you may be actually promoting the power struggles with your teen, you can decide to not fight and to not give in. Disengage from the fight and try to remain emotionally cool and calm. Without anger, the power struggle will diminish because your teen will have no one to fight against.

Give up the concept that you can make your teen do anything. Instead, inspire, teach, influence, lead, guide, motivate, stimulate and encourage your teen to positive, cooperative behavior. Catch him or her being good!
When disengaging, you need to act, not speak. For example, a temper tantrum becomes ineffective and silly if you withdraw to the other room – with slamming of doors.

Later, during a cooled-down period, you can talk about what you want from your teen. You can say, in a loving, accepting tone, “Son, after school, would you prefer to do your homework in the office or at the kitchen table?” If your teen feels personal power through choices, then he or she does not feel the need for power through conflict.

Community Solutions, Inc.
Heritage Communications
Multisystemic Therapy Services
Parent Coaching Institute
Positive Discipline