As a parent, discovering that your teen is struggling with an eating disorder can feel like an incredibly scary and overwhelming experience. Often there are so many questions and emotions that both you and your teen are experiencing that it can leave the whole family in a state of anxiety. One question I am hoping to answer today is how you can talk to your teen about treatment options.
Talking to your teen about treatment options can be really overwhelming. Feelings and anxiety are running high for everyone and often the individual struggling can present as not interested in getting the help he or she may desperately need. So how can you engage your teen in the conversation about treatment? Give him or her some choice.
As a parent it is important that you separate your child out from the disorder. They appear the same at times because they are both encased in the same physical being however they are incredibly different. Your teen is the person you knew (and know) before the eating disorder took over, she is the one you remember so clearly and the one who you love more than words can say. The eating disorder is the thing that takes your teen away – perhaps it manifests in your teen as angry, manipulative, isolated, obsessive, numb, or self-hatred. Maybe it manifests as all of those combined and then more. It is important to highlight to your teen that you know that she isn’t her eating disorder and to let her know that while you will always be on her side, you refuse to align yourself with the disorder. This sometimes means that you will have to draw a hard line in order to make sure the disorder knows that you don’t support its cruelty. The hard lines are done out of absolute love and devotion to your teen. When it comes to treatment you will likely have to make hard decisions even if your teen isn’t fully on board. That being said, the more collaborative you make the process the more open your teen will be to engaging in the treatment.
So what, in words, does this look like? Well, for example you could say something like this:
“Sarah love, your eating disorder is a really powerful beast that you are dealing with and it’s hurting you in so many ways. I understand that in some ways it feels like the only thing that keeps you safe, like the only thing you can trust. While I can’t say I understand your relationship with your eating disorder the way you do, I can say that I see how much it is hurting you. As your parent I love you too much to sit back and not try to help you so what I was thinking is that we could discuss some treatment options. What I am hoping is that we can make this a collaborative process. I want this be taken seriously but I also anticipate that you will want some say in what this looks like. I have outlined the treatment options below. I thought we could discuss them all together and maybe weigh the pros and cons to each. Afterwards, because I want to honor your journey, I thought you could pick from the treatment options listed and tell me which one you are most comfortable with.”
It is important that your teen know that you love her and that you value her opinion while also recognizing that you take her recovery very seriously. The less we threaten, the more on board she will become. By giving him/her a choice you empower her to take control of her life in a healthy way…something we all need to strive to do in our lives.