With eating disorders on the rise in our nation’s children, teenagers, and young adults, the need for preventative measures is stronger than ever. Children and adolescents are especially vulnerable with social and culture pressures and the need for acceptance from friends and family. As fragile as these age groups might be when it comes to susceptibility for developing disordered eating, it is also a time in life when positive influences can be deeply imprinted in their hearts and minds, building them up in strength even as they face many obstacles.
Parents and caregivers continue to have one of the most substantial roles in children and adolescents’ lives. As a parent of a teenager, this may be hard to grasp as your child becomes more independent and autonomous. Though, your influence in their life is stronger than ever. This is especially true when it comes to preventing eating disorders.
In a recent study from the Centre for Research into Eating Disorders at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, U.K., researchers found that teenagers’ negative perceptions toward eating may be a direct result of their parents’ attitudes about eating and food . This study, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, was one of the first of its kind, in that it examined parental feeding practices from the perspective of the adolescent. Over 500 students aged 13-15 years were recruited from schools within the United Kingdom and completed questionnaires that assessed their levels of eating psychopathology and their parents’ current feeding practices . Results from these questionnaires showed that for both boys and girls, parental involvement was associated with lower eating disorder symptomatology, while excessive control was connected with increased risk of eating disorders.
These findings are significant in terms of preventative measures that can be taken as eating disorders are increasing among children and adolescents. Lead author of this study, Dr. Emma Haycraft, noted, “When a parent attempts to control his or her child’s eating, a child may then try to regain self-control of eating by not eating other food or starting to binge eat.” While parents undoubtedly want their children to develop healthy eating habits, pressuring a child to eat a certain amount of food or a particular type of food might create negativity towards meal time and discourage a child from honoring their intuitiveness. These can be contributing factors to the progression of an eating disorder.
In light of this research, what are ways that parents can stay involved with their child and create a positive atmosphere around meal time? Start by having regular meal times with your children to promote opportunities for connection and fellowship. Offer a variety of healthy foods, but allow your child to determine what and how much they eat at meal times. This allows parents to be involved in the types of foods their children will be eating while allowing them to honor their own fullness cues.
Parents can play a tremendous role in the prevention of eating disorders in their children and teenagers. As a parent, by choosing to stay involved in your child’s life and demonstrating healthy habits, you can help them establish behaviors that will empower them throughout their lives.
*Please note that Eating Disorder Hope considers Parents and Caregivers to be part of the solution for eating disorder recovery, and not the problem. We do not wish to blame parents, but to consider all factors that may contribute to an eating disorder. Each individual is highly unique and therefore deserves a thorough assessment and treatment plan based on their biological, social, emotional and spiritual needs.
References:: Haycraft, E, Goodwin, H, Meyer, C. Adolescents’ Level of Eating Psychopathology Is Related o Perceptions of Their Parents’ Current Feeding Practices. Journal of Adolescent Health. 02 October 2013. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.08.007