Most teens, especially girls, become quite aware of their appearance. They select their clothes based on what is popular, trendy, and to place themselves into a social group. They may spend hours experimenting with their hair and make-up, want to ditch the glasses for contact lenses, and become obsessed with their weight.
Since appearance is a way for your teen to identify themselves with a peer group, this label is important to them. The kids at your child’s school can identify a peer and their group based on how they are dressed.
For the most part, as long as your teen is not dressing seductively or breaking other family rules, arguments about appearance are usually in vain. Teens are expressing themselves and are unlikely willing to change. Some teens will go to great measures to continue dressing a certain way if they are forbidden to do so by their parents.
There is a situation when you should be alert to your teen’s appearance and seek professional help if you are worried.
Teens are bombarded with images of the ideal body, and the cultural standard of what they should look like. This ideal is difficult, even close to impossible, for the average person to attain. Your teen may be comparing him or herself to this standard, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Children as young as 10 years of age are expressing a negative self-image. These children are going on diets and trying to lose weight. As a country, we have issues with obesity, and many people need to adopt a healthier lifestyle to maintain a healthy weight.
When your teen becomes obsessed with weight, there are warning signs that should be on your parental radar.
1. Talking about weight
If you hear your teen constantly talking about how much they weigh, or how much others weigh, this can be a sign that your teen is beginning to struggle with an eating disorder. Dismissing this sign or overreacting are both responses that can cause your teen to hide their behavior from you.
2. Strange or bad eating habits
If your teen is skipping meals regularly, eating a lot of one type of food (like fruit), eating excessively at one meal and skipping several others, or mysteriously visiting the bathroom after eating, you need to seek professional help.
3. Exercise to the extreme
Regular exercise is important for everyone, but if your teen is working out several times a day, this can be a warning sign of an eating disorder. A teen who is obsessed with their weight may feel that they need to burn off the calories immediately after eating a treat. (Eat a slice of pizza — run for an hour.)
No parent wants their child to have an eating disorder, but ignoring the problem will not change it.If your teen has an eating disorder, they may need extensive professional help to reprogram their thinking. They will need help to begin the lifelong struggle toward recovery. Turning meals into a battle can cause your teen to hide their behavior and put their life into danger.
Eating disorders can be dangerous. It is important for parents to watch for the signs and react in an appropriate manner. Watch for an obsession with weight, strange eating habits and extreme exercise. If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, seek professional help.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.