Mother shares advice on how to talk to teens about eating disorders

COVID pandemic, social media both impact disordered eating

A mother in Metro Detroit is sharing what she’s doing to educate her daughter about eating disorders.

DUNDEE, Mich. – A mother in Metro Detroit is sharing what she’s doing to educate her daughter about eating disorders.

Shannon Seehafer, from Dundee, has three children. One of her children is a 15-year-old girl.

She said during the pandemic she saw how her children experienced heightened sense of anxiety. She said she also saw things like depression and fear. She believes social media had an impact on that.

Like many other mothers, Seehafer said she likes to keep an eye on what her children are looking at online.

Read: U-M study: Hospitalizations among adolescents with eating disorders spike during pandemic

“I’m definitely more aware as my daughter gets older. I just make sure I’m constantly in communication with her about body image and about health and healthy habits and just talking to her and seeing what she thinks and what her thoughts are. And just keeping that communication open and just making sure it’s a safe, judgement-free space for her to come to when she has questions or she has concerns or she is struggling with something,” she said.

Experts who work with teens are stunned by the skyrocketing number of teens struggling with eating disorders. They said the situation got worse during the pandemic.

“There was a lot of emphasis placed on losing weight and getting fit during the pandemic and instead of some people being motivated by that, many, it led to an obsession and unhealthy eating habits,” therapist Kelly Houseman said.

Read: National Eating Disorder Awareness Week highlights just how many people live with these disorders

The National Eating Disorders Association helpline had a 40% jump in calls overall since March 2020. Among the callers, 35% of them were 13-17 years old.

Experts said the dramatic rise over the past year is concerning. They believe part of the reason for the spike is that teens lost their familiar routines, missed out on connections with friends and had added anxiety about the pandemic.

Experts say social media was a big factor. They said many times what is shown online isn’t real and has been photoshopped but the impact it has is real.

“So many are striving for this perfection that is truly not attainable. It doesn’t exist even in the person’s real life,” Houseman said.

The amount of time teens or tweens spend on social media can increase their risk of developing an eating disorder. Especially as they start to compare their bodies to what they see online.

Experts also warn that signs of disordered eating can include changes to eating or exercise habits. Other signs include sadness, chronic headaches and fatigue.

About the Authors:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.