Family based treatment (aka Maudsley Method) empowers parents to act as a critical part of the treatment team when healing a teenager from an eating disorder. This is done in consult with a therapist, dietician, and medical doctor. Parents follow the advice of their treatment team to get the adolescent’s caloric intake back on track so health can be restored. This is a very emotionally taxing process, but it also hopefully keeps the teenager out of the hospital. Many parents have lost their authority to the eating disorder over the course of the last several months or even years. When they are not only given permission, but required to take back that authority, there are often encouraging results.
Eating disorders are so nasty! They are cruel, unkind, and abusive to their victims. They take over a person’s relationships, personality, ambitions, and dreams until you find your teen is a shell of her former self. I should know…I had one for 7 years. Now I help parents fight back against the eating disorder monster. Here are some thoughts on the process:
I have heard more isolation stories from clients starting school last week than in all my previous years of practice (14). One teen told me how she plans to sit in the library for lunch. Another told me he is never invited to anything with his so-called “friends.” A third talked about how she feels like all the friend groups are already formed and she has no way to get into one. In every single case, their hearts are broken and they don’t know how to fix it. I feel their internal anguish as I listen to them give me the details about their worlds. They feel as though they are looking in on a world where everyone is smiling, but that they are stuck outside. They so desperately long for even just one person to show the interest, love, and compassion that they see other teens so effortlessly get.
What gives? Why are some outsiders despite every effort and others insiders even without trying?
1) Charisma: A few people have a lot of this character quality. Most have some. Then there are those who have almost none. You know the type: They just can’t seem to say the right thing at the right time. They make others feels awkward with their awkwardness. It is easy to pick up on the fact that they are not entirely comfortable with themselves.
2) Social Awareness: There are people who lack this very important character trait. They talk too loudly, they don’t know when to drop a discussion topic, they stand too close to people…they just cannot seem to read a room. Teenagers are very socially aware and they often reject the child who has not figured out social awareness.
3) Projected Confidence: Teenagers who walk with their heads up and scanning for eye contacts project more confidence. This is attractive to others. When eye contact is made, these confident teens will wave or smile. People reflexively smile and wave back, which makes everyone like each other more. Think about all that is missed for the teen who walks with eyes downcast.
4) Respect: Adolescents who know where they stand on an issue and are not swayed by the crowd’s opinion are more respected. Have other respect you translates into them being more inclusive.
5) Going Where You’re Wanted: This is the #1 most important thing teens do who fit in. They do not try to force themselves in where they are not obviously included. Teenagers who go with the other teens that already like them are happier. This is likely a life attitude of being content with what you have.
Here are some other thoughts on the struggle for an adolescent wanting to fit somewhere:
Your teenagers learn what is valuable from your behavior. Photo Credit: imagerymajestic via freedigitalphotos.net
1. Faith in God: If faith is important to you, then you have to model it, not just say it. It is easy to say something like, “I don’t want to force my kid to believe a certain thing. I’ll let them decide when they grow up.” In the meanwhile you don’t really expose them to your faith because you don’t want to be pushy. Please just know that if this is the tack you take, you’re kids will probably grow up not believing in any kind of organized religion. You need to model a strong faith in God if you want your kids to grow up with faith. Your teenagers pay astute attention to whether you react with anxiety or prayer. They notice whether you devote your spare time to helping others or doing what feels good for you. They are watching to see if you turn to scripture or if you turn on the news for your hope in the future. Every single day there are a hundred little choices we have to make to turn towards God versus turning towards ourselves, and your kids see almost every decision you make. They copy you. In their future they are more likely to choose a faith if they have been shown how by your example.
2. Finances: Do you buy things you can’t afford? Do you pay for little extras like a daily cup of coffee and then dismiss the cost because “It’s just a few dollars?” Do you get your hair done each month even though there really isn’t a college fund set up yet? Your teenagers are paying attention. They believe they can have anything they want right now it if that’s the example you set. If you are intentional about saving up for things like vacations and a car when you need one, they will learn that behavior instead. When they want something nice, if you help them map out how to work for it and save for it, they will start to really value what they have, and will start to think carefully about how they spend their money. Your kids are also watching to see how you give and how you save. If you invest wisely for the future, and talk about it a little all along the way, they will learn this is important. When you prioritize giving to others, they will value giving. You have a HUGE influence on your teens by your example with finances.
3. Humility: Your teenagers learn an immense amount from you on how to behave in relation to other people. If you are humble in your relationships, your teens will start to act with humility as well (Rick Warren explains humility to mean, “It’s not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less”). I have a neighbor who is constantly doing small things to help out other people. She makes food if you feel sick; she watches your kids for a few minutes if you have to get something done; she asks about that thing you complained about 5 weeks ago to see if it’s better. She is constantly thinking of others. She is subtle in how she does it, and it is certainly not so people will like her. In fact, she isn’t thinking of herself at all. She is simply the walking definition of humble. As her kids have gotten older they have become more and more kind. They are both incredibly sweet to the younger kids on the street. They are polite. They seem to automatically look for ways to serve someone in the smallest things. When they were trick-or-treating last Halloween they both made sure other kids got their candy at the door before they put their hands out. I don’t think they are even conscious of their kindness. I think it’s something they are learning from their incredibly humble mother. These children know how to behave in relation to others. Imagine these two when they are teens. Don’t you want your teenagers to be like that? They are watching what you do, and they are learning.
This blog isn’t written to condemn you for all the things you’re not doing right. It’s tough to be perfect. We are all doing the best we can. All I’m asking of you is to be intentional. Make sure you are showing your children the kind of adult you hope they become. Don’t raise your kids without intentionality, because the default is to let screens and peers raise your teens. Instead, I want you and your values to the most significant influence in their lives.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Stress is tough on teens. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Teenagers these days are stressed out! So are we all. We’re short on sleep, overscheduled, and overstimulated. Here are the top 5 stressors my teen clients talk about:
1. Looking good: Teens don’t yet know what makes them unique and special. They haven’t established a career or any specific knowledge that gives them an identity. They’re receiving a general education in middle and high school, so there is very little that distinguishes them from their peers. As a result, many teenagers spend an extraordinary about of emotional energy on wanting to be the best looking of their peer group. Girls try to be thinner, and boys try to look stronger. Pimples are akin to a nuclear crisis. This is a regular source of stress for your teenager.
2. College: There is an incredible amount of pressure on Orange County teenagers to achieve in high school so they can get into a great university. The problem is, they really don’t have a concept of what makes a university great. They tend to just assume schools with prestige and difficult admission requirements are what defines their entire adult future. Please help your teenager avoid buying into this lie. Different colleges excel at different things. Your adolescent’s success in college has more to do with matching the right kind of school to their personality and values than anything else. For example, I have one client who is achieving very high grades in high school, but his personality is such that he flourishes in an environment where he is one of the top students. He would really struggle at a UCLA type school even though he could get in there. He’s intentionally choosing a much smaller private school for this very reason.
3. Sports: Playing sports is very good for teenagers. It’s really beneficial for them to get exercise, be around friends, and learn discipline. But, we have many teenagers who are forced to take sports a little too seriously. They have multiple hours of practice per day, private coaches, weekends dominated by travel and tournaments, and constant pressure to play at a very elite level. What is all this for? These teens are training like professional athletes, often at great financial and emotional expense, just to make a college team? It’s one thing if your teen is truly passionate about their sport, and you couldn’t keep them from practicing if you tried. It’s completely another thing if you’re the one pushing and they only “like” the sport. This kind of pressure ends up equating to stress. In fact, many teenagers confide in me during a counseling session that they actually hate being an intense athlete.
4. Social media: Without a doubt your teenager stresses about social media (if they use it). Adolescents are truly bothered every time they logon to Instagram and see several of their friends in a photo without them. They feel compelled to check their social media multiple times per day. They are bolstered or discouraged by comments made on their posts. They use social media as a means to compare themselves to others.
5. Homework: This one won’t surprise you. It likely caused you stress as a teenager too. Teenagers are assigned a lot of homework. It is stressful to be at school all day, and then have to come home and work on it for many more hours. Now that adolescents feel they have to take harder and harder classes to stand out, their homework load has become extremely burdensome.
Stress in small doses actually motivates us. It’s good to learn to manage stress. When your teenager becomes overly stressed though, they can be irritable, frustrated and anxious. Knowing some of the things that cause them anxiety can help you help them. One of the big skills you have to teach your child before he/she flies the coop is how to keep life in balance. Help your teenager know they simply cannot participate in, or be the best in everything.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Hello, I’m Lauren! If you notice your teen struggling, you might be feeling helpless, hopeless, frustrated or concerned as a parent. Try to remember, there is hope. I want to help your adolescent feel better. My hope is for them to enjoy their life again. I want them to feel confident they can handle whatever situations arise.