More than half of teenage girls and 33 precent of teenage boys use “unhealthy” weight control measures including smoking, skipping meals and vomiting, a speaker told members of the Corona del Mar High School PTA at a meeting this week.
“It’s a difficult time, obviously,” said Ellen Gordon, an eating disorder therapy specialist in Newport Beach. “It’s a time we’re hoping for the best for our kids, but sometimes — with the best of intentions — we put a lot of pressure on our kids.”
Some teens with eating disorders display “candy-coated shells,” Gordon said. They are bright, intelligent and perfectionistic but at the same time have low self esteem, are intense and anxious and impulsive.
“They don’t think they do anything well at all,” she said.
Eating disorders can be triggered by biology, psychology and social factors, she said. Teens who deal with anxiety, depression, low self esteem and other issues can turn to substance and alcohol abuse, cutting or eating disorders, all “unhealthy coping behavior,” Gordon said.
Parents can help by having open communication with their teens, being good role models with food and weight and avoiding pressuring kids for perfection, Gordon said. If parents notice signs of eating disorders, she said, professional help is crucial, and early intervention leads to a higher success rate in treatment.
Corona del Mar High School counselor Kathy Hath attended the PTA meeting and told parents that she frequently sees students who are having panic attacks.
“Boys, too,” she said. “Big boys. A lot of times they don’t even know what happened. They say, ‘I was sitting in class, I don’t know what’s the matter with me…’”
Students will end up in her office, sobbing, saying, “I shouldn’t be depressed, my parents tell me all the time how grateful I should be…I live in Newport Beach, I have my own bathroom…’
“It’s a very fine line to walk,” Hath said. “We should be grateful, but sometimes we don’t do a good job of validating our kids’ feelings. Sometimes you’re said. Sometimes things don’t go the way you want.”
PTA members and Hath discussed having a Coffee With the Counselor series during the 2013-2014 school year so parents can speak regularly with counseling staff about issues students are facing.
PTA members also suggested posting a copy of Gordon’s presentation on the PTA website. Gordon said she holds a free educational and support group for family members and friends of people with eating disorders. Those meetings are held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month at 1151 Dove Street in Newport Beach.