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Plus Size Teens, Positive Role Models, And The Media

For the first time I am starting to see teen literature including successful and positive plus-size characters, and all I can say is, “it is about time!” Finally, there are large teens who are perceived as heroes and successful people.

While our culture keeps getting larger and childhood obesity and eating disorder rates keep climbing, the fact that there were no large, fat, plump, curvy, plush, whatever term you prefer, main characters with positive self-esteem, was really ridiculous. But all that seems to be changing.

There are now books with titles like “Looks,” Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies,” “Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have,” “All About Vee,” and “This Book Isn’t Fat It’s Fabulous,” that include large teens in positive roles for large people. There are also blogs our there, like “Diary of a Fat Teenager,” for teens looking for support about being happy with there bodies and not spending their energy trying to be thin!

Some days I think there is hope!

This post, Plus Size Teens, Positive Role Models, And The Media, was originally published on by Nancy Brown, Ph.D..

The Role of Adult Mentors: If You See Something, Say Something

I recently had the opportunity to spend five days with seven amazing teen women doing community service at the Howling Acres Wolf Sanctuary in Oregon. My eldest daughter has arranged this annual camping trip since she was in middle school and I tag along to drive, cook, provide first aid, reminders about bug spray and sunscreen, and do a lot of dishes.

This year I also gave some feedback to a couple of new teens that was not well-received and the experience set me to thinking about the role of adult mentors in the lives of teens. I think as adults, it is easier to just watch teens, make our own judgments about their behavior, but unless they are our own, refrain from helping them reflect on those behaviors.

Sadly, I think this lack of feedback from adults does not benefit youth. I am of the mind that teachers, doctors, counselors, and actually all adults spending time with teens are ethically responsible for giving them feedback about their behavior – to provide an opportunity for them to reflect on a person’s perception of their behavior and his or her response to it.

The flip side of this is hearing the feedback given back, so yes, I heard when I was “snippy” and did have to apologize several times for losing patience – but it is all good and we are never too old to “engage” in relationships.

Teens really are blessed if they spend time with adult who will talk with them honestly and give them feedback, but the teen has to make the decision to hear the feedback and not just feel criticized and withdraw – which is the hard part of honest relationships. This group of girls was a new group, with four new members, and a wide age range – 12 to 17 – so there were several mini-lectures about judgment and being self-centered, which of course were translated into “she does not like me.”

I have to say it is hard to have conversations with teens who do not want to hear, but if they can hear that the feedback is about being perceived as the type of person they want to be, then there is hope. For example, if a teen says something negative about a person we pass or interact with in the community, I am likely to say, “whoa, that is really judgmental – are you sure you want to judge her without knowing more about her?” Or, maybe, “I hope you do not judge me solely on my appearance,” and if focused, I might add that people tend to shy away from people who are negative or judgmental, which is usually not what we want, which is to attract people.

Reactions range from silent sullen and angry to a brief nod and maybe “I am sorry,” but I think the process is the important part. Teens are going to be adults soon, and then feedback gets really rare except from friends, family, and bosses (which have consequences attached), so it is important to give the feedback and help teens hear it.

This post, The Role of Adult Mentors: If You See Something, Say Something, was originally published on by Nancy Brown, Ph.D..

Divorce Doesn’t Change Parenting Behavior

Research reported in Family Relations by Lisa Strohschien (University of Alberta) challenges the notion that parenting practices diminish after divorce. In a large longitudinal study Dr. Strohschien found that divorce did not change parenting behavior for most parents.

The study used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NSLCY) to compare the 208 families that divorced between data collection points to the 4,796 households that remained intact. The study compared nurturing, consistent and punitive parenting between the households.

The findings suggested that most parents maintained very stable parenting practices, and it was only a few parents who were overwhelmed, unable to cope, and became less nurturing, inconsistent, and punitive.

These results are extremely important because for years family courts have poured money into mandatory parenting classes for divorcing parents (called things like “putting children first”), when in fact, most parents do not need the classes. The parents that may be unable to parent consistently are the parents who need the support, but these results suggest they are the minority.

I would suggest that a post-divorce interview with the children would help identify the parents who need the support, as children are very capable of reporting what they need after divorce, and are conscious of when a parent is punitive and no longer invested in their well-being.

This post, Divorce Doesn’t Change Parenting Behavior, was originally published on by Nancy Brown, Ph.D..

Teens Who Live With A Depressed Parent

Teens living with a depressed parent need information and support. The inclination of most people living with someone who is depressed is to take on responsibility for the ill parent and other family members.

Life is difficult for anyone living with a depressed parent. The daily home life is complex – with little consistency, irregular habits, plans made at the last minute, little consideration for each person’s wishes or desires, and there is usually a huge decrease in communication. The depressed parent withdraws from the family and the teens are left to manage on their own, creating feelings of loneliness.

Teens are not likely to realize how much their life has changed, or how serious the depression is and need adults who see the changes to bring them to the attention of the family, medical and emotional professionals. Even if the depression lifts for a period, everyone in the family will likely be anxious about when it will returns.

I believe that all health care professionals are ethically responsible to help teens avoid the responsibility and loneliness associated with living with a depressed parent. As mentioned in a previous post, there are also many resources for those parents who are willing to admit the depression, as well.

This post, Teens Who Live With A Depressed Parent, was originally published on by Nancy Brown, Ph.D..

The Newest Eating Disorder: Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia is a term coined by Dr. Steven Bratman. “Ortho” simply means straight or correct, while “orexia” refers to appetite. Orthorexia nervosa refers to a nervous obsession with eating proper foods. While anorexia nervosa is an obsession with the quantity, orthorexia is an obsession with the quality of the food consumed.

Given how heavy people seem to be getting in our country, focusing on health should not be a bad thing. However, while it is normal for people to change what they eat to improve their health, treat an illness, or lose weight, orthorectics may take the concern too far. While it is normal for people switching diets to be concerned with what types of food they are eating, this concern should quickly decrease, as the diet becomes normal. Orthorexia, in contrast, is when a person is consumed with what types of food they are allowed to eat and feel badly about their selves if they fail to stick with their regimen.

People suffering with this obsession about what they eat may find themselves:
• Spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food.
• Planning tomorrow’s menu today.
• Feeling virtuous about what they eat, but not enjoying it much.
• Continually limiting the number of foods they eat.
• Experiencing a reduced quality of life or social isolation (because their diet makes it difficult for them to eat anywhere but at home).
• Feeling critical of others who do not eat as well they do.
• Skipping foods they once enjoyed to eat the “right’ foods.
• Feeling guilt or self-loathing when they stray from their diet.
• Feeling in “total” control when they eat the correct diet.

Often orthorectics will “punish” themselves by doing a penance of some sort, if this “fall from grace” does occur. While orthorexia nervosa isn’t yet a formal medical condition, many professionals do feel that it does explain an important health phenomenon. If you or someone you know suffers from something that sounds or feels like this description of orthorexia nervosa, you should go visit either a nutritionist or doctor.

1) Bratman, Steve. “Health Food Junkie–Orthorexia Nervosa, the New Eating Disorder.” 1997.
2) Billings, Tom. “Clarifying Orthorexia: Obsession with Dietary Purity as an Eating Disorder.” 1997
3) Davis, Jeanie. “Orthorexia: Good Diets Gone Bad.” November, 2000.
4) Fugh-Berman, Adriane. “Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating–A Book Review.” May 2001.
5) Dennis, Tamie. “Booster Shots.” Los Angeles Times, 7/09

Photo credit: Meg and Rahul

This post, The Newest Eating Disorder: Orthorexia Nervosa, was originally published on by Nancy Brown, Ph.D..

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