If you have a teenage daughter, the chances are that you’ve already had arguments over food. A shocking eighty percent of Americans have tried dieting by the age of thirteen, though only a small percentage of them are actually overweight.
At this age, when the body is still developing, lack of proper nutrition can lead to long term health problems. Boys are at risk too, making up ten percent of eating disorder sufferers. For three to four percent of these children, ordinary dieting will develop into full blown anorexia or bulimia. Now, with the internet to focus their behaviour, those statistics are getting even worse.
Online precautions for parents should, sadly, not only be about protecting children from other people, but also about protecting them from themselves. As such, every parent should be aware of the risk which online eating disorder clubs can potentially present to their children.
Anorexics are notoriously secretive about their problems, so parents may not realise anything is wrong until they start to lose dangerous amounts of weight. Using the strategies shared by other sufferers online, they may learn to hide their symptoms for even longer.
It’s important to realise that anorexia and related disorders are not simply about food, they’re about control. Working together, members of these online clubs attempt to control their bodies and so control their lives. By sharing their obsessions they come to see them as normal.
Talking to other people with whom they can feel normal is naturally very appealing to children, so they’ll often side with their dangerous friends and keep secrets from their parents. Online safety precautions should include proactive discussions about clubs of this sort so that children have access to alternative perspectives and remain aware that their parents want not simply to take away their control but, rather, to help them.
If you think your child may be at risk of developing an eating disorder, it’s important to pay attention to their online habits. The longer such disorders last, the more dangerous they become, and the harder it will be for your child ever to live a normal life, even if they genuinely want to. Be ready to point them at online recovery groups to show them that there’s another side to their behaviour – people who understand, but who don’t ever want to be like that again.