Eating Disorders and Body Image in Teens: a Pediatrician’s Perspective

eating disorders Body image

Eating Disorders and Body Image in Teens: a Pediatrician’s Perspective

By Michelle DeRamus, Ph.D.

The first time I remember being aware of my own body image was when I was in second grade. I was on the bus, and a girl a few years older than me asked with a smirk, “Do you think you’re fat? ‘Cause I don’t… I think you’re skinny as a rail.” I didn’t think I was fat, but I could tell by her sarcasm that she did. And so began the lifelong battle that so many of us face – developing and maintaining a positive body image. So many things affect our body image, that is, the way we perceive their own bodies and how we think others perceive our bodies. It is influenced by our own personality, our life experiences with peers and family, and of course, what we are exposed to in the media. While most people have some difficulty with their body image at some point in their lives, girls and women tend to have a significantly greater struggle than boys and men, especially during the teenage years. The effects of a negative body image in teens can be devastating, leading to low self-esteem, unhealthy habits, depression, anxiety, and even eating disorders.

Tips to help

As we enter summer (and swimsuit season), here are some tips to help you promote a more realistic and positive body image in your child or teenager.

1. Help your children have a realistic understanding of media images.

As adults, most of us know that the models we see in the media have been airbrushed and “touched up” in a variety of ways. Several examples in recent years have given us the opportunity to see “before” and “after” pictures of models and actresses to help us understand that the final image we see is not reality. It is important for our teens to realize that the images they see in the media are not realistic. These images are also not attainable by approximately 95% of the population. Just because we see dozens of images of “beautiful people” each day does not mean that is the norm. However, if children and teens do not understand this concept, it can lead to expectations that most people look like those we see in the media, which creates unrealistic expectations for perfect bodies and creates poor body image in teens.

2. Help your children develop a positive self-esteem.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It is important for children and teens to recognize their strengths across different aspects of life, whether it is sports, academics, personality and character traits, hobbies, other extracurricular activities, or social skills. Help your child identify and then strengthen their positive qualities. Guide them in understanding how these positive qualities can help them reach their goals and that success is not dependent on physical appearance.

3. Help your children develop good social skills.

Much of our desire to look a certain way is driven by an underlying desire to fit in. Society, peers, and sometimes even family tell us that we will be more successful or better liked if we are a certain size or shape. However, the reality is that there are other ways to make friends and feel like you belong to a group. Children who know how to get along with others and have a positive peer group that supports and encourages them may be better able to keep their body image concerns in perspective.

4. Help your children learn how to focus on being healthy

mom and teen…rather than focusing on looking a certain way, weighing a certain amount, or eating a certain number of calories. A focus on overall health can help children learn moderation in all things, both the excesses (e.g., desserts, sedentary activities) and the restrictions (e.g., limiting food intake). A focus on health also takes the emphasis off the image in the mirror and back onto how your child feels. Point out that your body is an amazing tool that can help you reach your goals, rather than something to be scrutinized and criticized.

5. Help your children learn positive stress management techniques.

Many unhealthy habits develop in response to stress. Teaching children and teens to manage stress appropriately with fun activities, social support, problem solving, exercise, and relaxation can prevent unhealthy habits from developing.

6. Be an example.

Children, and even teens, learn the most about how to “be” from their immediate family members. Even at a very young age, children notice when adults are critical of their own bodies in front of their children. If children see other family members modeling poor body image, they will grow to think that is the norm. One of the best ways to teach the above strategies to your children is to follow them yourself.

Warning Signs

While almost everyone struggles with body image at some time, most people are able to ultimately keep appearance in perspective as only one part of who they are as a person and do not develop serious consequences as a result of their perception of ideal body image. However, for some individuals, body image becomes so distorted or such a priority, that significant problems develop, such as depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. Some warning signs of body image issues in teens that preclude a more serious condition include:

  • Changes in eating patterns (e.g., decreased intake, binging, vomiting after meals)
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, exercise, etc.
  • Dramatic changes in weight
  • Frequent comments or anxiety about being “fat” or overweight
  • Development of rigid food or exercise rituals
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, or previously enjoyed activities

If you are concerned your child may be experiencing emotional problems or an eating disorder as a result of poor body image, it is important to get help right away. Early treatment leads to better outcomes. Talk to your child’s doctor about resources in your area.

Dr. DeRamus is a child psychologist with Preferred Medical Group’s Phenix City Children’s clinic. She specializes in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and provides diagnostic testing and therapy services for developmental delays, learning problems and ADHD. She also works with kids with anger, anxiety, depression, family problems and peer relationships.

Affordable Birthday Gift Ideas for Kids

4 Ideas for Thrifty and Memorable Birthday Gifts

Because birthday gifts for kids need not be expensive.

birthday gifts

Guest blog by Ruth Mendez

Today’s children are very different. Even though they’re impossibly adorable, I think they’re getting used to having what they want most of the time. Meanwhile, yesterday’s youth know for a fact that penny-pinching is a virtue and friendships are measured by the memories you make with each other.

I had this thought after my kid sat up next to me while I was shopping online. She asked me to buy a royal castle LEGO play set as a gift for her friend’s birthday, which will cost me about $50, before shipping.

While money is not that big of an issue, I didn’t like the fact that my child would be willing to spend so much for a friend’s birthday present. Or maybe my kid just doesn’t realize what’s more important yet.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to teach our kids about money and things it can never buy. I remember making a wire tiara for my best friend’s 7th birthday. She still has it displayed on her office desk, even though it’s not the same color as it used to. I told this story to my kid and she had to pause for some time before I went on and helped her find the right gift for her friend.

This is why I came up with amazing gift ideas kids will surely love that won’t hurt your budget:

Art Materials

Kids love to draw. They are Picassos and Michaelangelos in small proportions. This may be because drawing is one of the first activities where they get a sense of fulfilment and accomplishment, and a sense of being able to create something. Provide them with plenty of room to explore their artistic capabilities. Give little kids some crayons, watercolors, and colored pencils to help them visualize their dreams. Giving chalk, markers, and clay dough to older kids are also amazing gift ideas. Prevent them from drawing on walls by giving them a sketchbook as well.

DIY Gifts

Of course, what you give, you will receive. Having your kids gift do-it-yourself stuff to close friends is a unique way to express their love to their friends Kids can also learn to appreciate the underlying sentimental value with DIY gift ideas made especially for them. This will also develop their admiration for hard work and value for sweet thoughts. There are a lot of DIY gift ideas: from picture frames, bookmarks, to personalised key chains, and paper maches. These are great gift ideas kids can give to their friends. You can check this kids craft ideas for DIY gift items.

Kids DYI crafts

While giving kids art materials can be expensive (depending on the brand), it’s good to start teaching them to make crafts for themselves. This is an exercise in showing them the value of effort and appreciation.

Slide Show Presentations

Since today’s children are much more tech-savvy than most of us (heck, my 8 year-old even knows how to change skins on my Android phone!), it’s not too farfetched for them to create slide show presentations for their friends. It’s better to be shown on parties where it can be shared with everyone. This can be an awesome surprise for their friend, especially when they’re extra close with each other. Imagine this presentation playing in front of everyone, then an awkward photo pops up, or a special moment that only your kid and her friend know about… Isn’t that sweet? They can also include birthday greetings from other friends who won’t make it in the party to make it super fun!

Homemade Edible Goodies

If your kid is feeling extra motivated to create something for their friend’s birthday, help them to make edible goodies like cupcakes, cookies, and other pastry treats.  Also, since this will be a gift, make sure to put it in an attractive packaging.

It doesn’t really matter whether your kid has an expensive gift for their friend’s birthday or not. An old saying goes: it’s the thought that counts. And count it does! I didn’t agree to buy the LEGO set my kid wanted for her friend. Instead, we spent time searching for a gift her friend will like, and added her personal touch by making it in our home. I don’t know if my judgment is clouded, but I think my child gave the most unique gift among everyone on that party. Her friend loved the bracelet so much she wore it right away.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

About The Author

Ruth Mendez is a working mom with lovely twins. She and her family enjoy yoga during weekends, aside from going to the movies and eating ice cream at home. Ruth works as a Community Manager for Afterschool.ae, the leading after school activity planning platform for kids and moms in Dubai.

Memorial Day Trivia for Kids

Memorial Day trivia

Memorial Day Trivia: how many do you know?

The last Monday in May is Memorial Day. How much do you know about the holiday on which we honor our soldiers that fought and died to keep our country safe and free? Take this Memorial Day Trivia quiz and see how well you did!

Memorial Day Trivia Questions:

  1. The first Memorial Day ceremony took place in what year?
  2. Memorial Day was once called by another name. What was the former name?
  3. What would you traditionally fly on Memorial Day?
  4. Which southern state first celebrated the federal holiday of Memorial Day?
  5. Small American flags are placed at the head of each gravestone during this holiday. In what well-known cemetery are these patriotic remembrances placed?
  6. What northern state was the first to observe Memorial Day?
  7.  In which city and state is the official birthplace of Memorial Day?
  8. Memorial Day weekend has been proclaimed as being the most dangerous holiday. Which incident has deemed it to become very unsafe?
  9. Many Americans treat Memorial Day as the beginning of which of the four seasons?
  10. True or False: It is legally required to observe a National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 p.m on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day Trivia Answers:

(1) 1868  (2) Decoration Day (3) American flag (4) Mississippi (5)  Arlington National Cemetery (6) New  York (7) Waterloo, New York (8) car accidents (9) summer (10) True

Summer Learning Made Fun

Making Summer Learning Fun

summer learning fun

Summer is a time to have fun and enjoy the outdoors. While this change of pace should give families the opportunity to rest and relax, parents often worry that their young children will forget what they’ve learned in school by not exercising their minds enough over the break. It’s especially important to keep your little one’s brain stimulated every day, as their brains are constantly developing. Parents can do this by engaging their children in purposeful play that reinforces learning all summer long.

Playing outdoors

Parents should take advantage of more leisure time by using summer to explore nature and discover science with their children. The following common outdoor activities can provide the perfect setting for firsthand lessons on physics, chemistry and biology in ways that small children can enjoy and understand.

Swinging: Swinging back and forth allows children to experience Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As the swing comes to a stop, children realize they must push off the ground to set the swing back in motion.

Sliding: Slides allow children to experience the effects of gravity and friction. Children realize they can slow down by pressing on the soles of their shoes, or lift their feet to go faster.

Swimming: Children experiment with the scientific principle of buoyancy while learning to swim, asking questions like, “Why do I float sometimes and sink other times?”

Depending on the age of your child, it’s not always necessary to explain the science behind each activity – the experiences alone help children grasp science later on.

Playing indoors

Since the weather doesn’t always cooperate, it’s important to ensure that time spent indoors is also optimized for learning. The following activities make for a fun and interactive afternoon without having to step foot outside:

Snacktivities: Teach your child healthy habits by making simple snacks together. Fruit and cheese kabobs are fun to make and will help develop your child’s fine motor skills!

Singing: Take turns singing the lines of a familiar song to build your child’s verbal memory and develop listening and concentration skills.

Snuggling: Have your child pick out a book and snuggle up together to read it. The quality time together will also help foster literacy and vocabulary skills. 

Summer programs

Summer programs with educational components are becoming increasingly popular. Programs that foster brain stimulation and continuous learning, such as the The Campus at Columbus, allow children to explore interesting topics through purposeful play that emphasizes engagement and discovery.

By encouraging your child to use her natural tendency to learn through summertime play and exploration, you are giving her time to practice, internalize and apply what she learned during the more academic part of the year. Investigating and exploring topics that interest her will help her develop into a well-rounded learner.

Source: Primrose Schools

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

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Making the Transition to Middle School

middle school

Making the Transition to Middle School

Guest Blog by Carla Thomas, Counselor, Rothschild Leadership Academy

The jump from elementary to middle school is a big step on the road to your child’s maturity.

Starting middle school is an exciting time for parents and students. It means that your kids are getting older and that they are becoming more independent. But it can also be a time when both you and your child are feeling nervous about the challenges that may lie ahead. Here are some suggestions to help you and your child navigate the transition smoothly:

Parents as Partners

As students transition to middle school, it is important that parents partner with the school to help students achieve success throughout their middle school years. You can help by:

  • Getting involved
  • Creating supervised study times for your child
  • Checking your child’s progress periodically
  • Encouraging your child to ask for help when needed
  • Allowing your child to gain a sense of responsibility and independence
  • Communicating with the administration, counselors and teachers

3 Tips for Student Success

No matter what kind of middle school your child attends, one thing always remains the same about this important step-up — it’s a chance for adventure and to start with a clean slate. Here are three tips for student success:

1. Get Organized – Use an agenda or assignment book to keep track of when assignments and projects are due. (Make sure you take it to every class.) Keep a separate folder or notebook for each class. Keep your locker neat. Get everything organized for the next day before you go to bed. Check your assignment book to make sure you finished all assignments that are due the next day. Pack your book bag after you finish your homework. Get your clothes ready before you go to bed.

2. Get Involved – Being involved is a great way to make new friends and have fun, so join a team or a club!

teams and clubs

3. Know the Rules – All students are expected to follow the rules and restrictions as set forth in the Behavior Code and Discipline Policy of your school district. Here are a list of behaviors that may require the administration to take disciplinary action:

  • Violation of cell phone policy and electronic devices
  • Violation of Dress code
  • Class/School disruption
  • Fighting
  • Bullying
  • Gang activity

In Muscogee County, bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Gang activity is defined as an association of three or more individuals who identify themselves by a common name, slogan, symbol, tattoo, graffiti, haircuts, etc.

Resources for Middle School Parents and Students

Books for Parents/ Students:

** Books that can be enjoyed by students and parents

Websites for Parents:

Questions or Concerns:

If you have questions or concerns, talk to your school’s counselor. School counselors are available to partner with parents to ensure that your child is successful in middle school. Rest assured that middle school administration, counselors and teachers are sensitive to your needs and are dedicated to ensuring that your child has a smooth transition.

Photo credit: istockphoto.com