The Digital Era: Saving Kids From Developing an Eating Disorder

Child using social media and technology

Social media has taken over Westernized societies, or so it seems. It can be seen in many areas of a person’s everyday life such as schools, classrooms, the workplace, and even in selfies.

Everyone of every age seems to have a smartphone these days with instant 24-hour access to social media platforms. Teenagers especially seem to live their life via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and other mediums.

It can be extremely challenging to ignore the pressures in attitudes, beliefs, personal appearance, weight and dieting, and peer pressure that it can bring.

Individuals get their cues on personal training, exercise, and food tips from social media sites. They may follow individuals and friends who are chronicling their weight-loss and exercise regimens. It may push adolescents to feel there is a ‘perfect body’ and ‘thin ideal.’

What is an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are a mental health disorder, and the development of one has various contributing factors. Environmental, physical, genetic, emotional, and biological factors all play a role in when an eating disorder begins to develop for each person.

Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder are all categories of eating disorders. Often a person’s struggling with these disorders present a fear of gaining weight, a desire to have a thinner body, and various symptoms of psychological behaviors.

Poor self-image, low self-esteem, and self-worth are also common factors, and a person may be consumed with feelings of shame, guilt, and obsessions with the ‘perfect body [1].’

Social Media’s Role in the Digital Era

Social media can be fuel to the fire of eating disorders. It can increase the likelihood that a person will engage in disordered eating or eating disorder symptoms.

According to research on the effect of social media and disordered eating patterns, media has a causal risk factor for the development of eating disorders and can have a strong influence on a person’s’ dissatisfaction with body shape and size, and a weak self-concept [1].

Being educated and aware of the effects that social media can have on such an impressionable mind is essential in knowing how to prevent an eating disorder from developing.

How to Save Your Child from Digital Negativity

There are various ways that you can prevent unhealthy eating behaviors from starting.

1.  Unplugging for a day or longer from technology is a great start. Set a new boundary within the family that it will be a technology free day.

  • Child enjoying the digital eraPlanning a day together as a family that focuses on technology-free activities will help your family build a closer bond and help young ones focus on internal cues and messages.
  • Once decided to unplug, plan activities that can be done without technology. Put ideas in a jar and pull one or more out each week.
  • Suggest getting outside for a walk or hike, reading a book, practicing yoga or meditation. Engage in activities that allow for creativity, being occasionally bored, and technology free.

2.  Get the passwords to your child’s social media sites. Regularly check what sites they visit. Unfollow any individuals or groups that look like they are overly-focused on food, body image, exercise regimens, etc.

  • Block unfriendly social media users and body shamers. Encourage the use of social media as a way to focus on positive messages and celebration of life with friends and family.

3.  Another way to help your child is to educate them on the dangers of social media and the dark web. Help them to understand what being a responsible social media user means.

  • Many youths build their ideas, beliefs, and values from what they see and engage in on social media.

4.  Teach your child to be mindful of everyday activities and self. Sign up for a yoga class together or a mindfulness workshop. Learn to be present in the moment, especially with food.

  • Discourage eating in front of the T.V. where kids and teens typically engage in mindless eating and do not focus on hunger and satiety cues.

5.  Learn all you can about eating disorders [2]. Understand what the signs and symptoms are so you know of what to be aware.

  • Often eating disorder behaviors are secretive and typically many parents are not aware of an eating disorder until it has become chronic.
  • Work on your verbiage around food and body. Try to avoid body shaming and using terms such as ‘good/bad’ when talking about food, weight and body shape.

6.  Another way to steer away from eating disorder patterns is to change the way your family approaches weight, body talk, and diets. Avoid practicing diets unless it is necessary.

  • Meet with a dietician who specializes in eating disorders to give education on proper nutrition for the family. Work together to gain education and knowledge.
  • Do not be afraid to address these issues with your child. Being honest about these issues is key to promoting awareness, prevention, and recovery. Be open and keep trying if you feel you are not able to connect with your child on this topic.

If you are concerned that your child already has an eating disorder, do not panic as numerous eating disorder specialists and professionals are able to help.

You can visit the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (NEDA) for further information on this topic and clinicians in your area.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.

Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] Gleissner, G. (2017, May 10). Social Media and its Effect on Eating Disorders. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from
[2] What Can You Do to Help Prevent Eating Disorders? (n.d.). Retrieved December 09, 2017, from

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on January 28, 2018.
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