I've sort of been expecting someone to blame schools for introducing teenagers to the dangerous world of eating disorders. After all, parents are more than willing to blame MTV for teen pregnancy and Facebook for "letting" their kids cyberbully. But the XO Jane article titled "Health Class Taught Me How to Have an Eating Disorder" was still a tough read.
I once was that teenage girl sitting in a classroom learning that some girls lose weight by throwing up everything they eat. And yes, I would go on to battle bulimia for many years, despite the warnings that it was one of the absolute worst ways to attack the battle of the bulge. But I'm still not buying the argument that talking to our kids about tough topics is the wrong way to go. It sounds like a cop-out.
Jane writer Jessica recalls a movie that kicked off an eating disorder unit, detailing all the dangerous -- but different -- ways people could lose weight:
Had one of us already been suffering from anorexia, this may have served as a much needed wake-up call and a reason to reach out for help. Unfortunately, for those of us who hadn't yet considered slimming down, the movie ended up serving not so much as a warning but an instruction manual on how to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.
It's true, teachers unwittingly gave me a quick how-to on throwing up my food. But that doesn't make it their fault. I was bulimic because I was a depressed teenager with an unhealthy attitude toward food and my body. I would have figured out how to stick a finger down my throat eventually.
As a mother, I have found myself falling into the trap of blaming other people for presenting some of the more touchy truths of life in a setting meant for kids. Just yesterday, I huddled on my couch fighting off a bug my 6-year-old brought home from first grade and making my way through a pile of YA fiction that had accumulated on my bedside table. First book: Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mylnowski, a fun read made considerably less so by my vision of my daughter one day taking in the tales of virginity lost and parents lied to. I had to remind myself that it was A.) just a book and B.) a book that detailed some things that kids really do. It's up to parents to raise kids NOT to do these things, and one book isn't going to undo years of parenting.
Unfortunately, we have a tendency to put our mom hats on, then pull them down tight over our eyes. Instead of acknowledging that there's a lot of tough, awful stuff that kids deal with today, and it's better our kids learn about them in safe, nurturing environments where they can hash out their feelings both for and against, we convince ourselves that our kids will not encounter these things ... ever.
News flash! Your kids will more than likely face the following at some point:
- Drinking (and possibly driving)
- Sex (and STDs and pregnancy scares)
- Weight issues/eating disorders
So what's better? To let them walk into it blind? Or to risk that a few teens will encounter them a little earlier in a safe environment?
Image via US Army Africa/Flickr