School psychologists have a lot to deal with in a middle school setting. Drug abuse, sexual harassment or activity, low self-esteem, bullying, and eating disorders are all topics being addressed by middle school students. Even some of the younger students who are just entering sixth grade have been developing eating disorders.
Eating disorders are becoming more prevalent in younger children for a variety of reasons. The overt sexuality, adult themes, and mature attire in popular culture are being targeted at younger and younger audiences. The message most young girls are receiving is that thinner is better. They begin to believe that, if they are thinner, they will be prettier and more popular.
Many of the issues school psychologists are addressing, such as low self-esteem and eating disorders, go together. By teaching girls to find their self worth in ways not associated with how they look, the emphasis switches to aspects the girls can change more easily and in a more healthful way. Small group sessions with at-risk girls, where the girls talk about body image and brainstorm ways to feel better about themselves, removes the pressure that would be felt in larger groups. An abundance of extracurricular activities allows girls to find activities they can focus on instead of body image.
The school psychologist and the school nurse discussing nutrition, healthy body image, and good exercise goals can be provided to general classes. Giving students the correct information can help prevent problems before they fully develop. Evening classes can provide parents with the same information, since good nutrition starts at home. Throughout the year, schools can host classes for parents on how to identify eating disorders as well. Often, parents believe the changes in their child are due to the normal transition from child to adolescent, and they miss some of the early warning signs that their child is developing an eating disorder.
Unfortunately, even with all of the preventative work a school psychologist may provide, there will still be children who develop eating disorders. When this is discovered in the school, it will fall to the school psychologist to contact the parents with the information. This can be a very difficult task, especially if the parent or child is in denial. Maintaining close contact with eating disorder associations, specialists, support groups, and clinics can help provide parents the resources they need to help their child. At the end of the day, it is important for those who work in education to remember that they must try their best to help the children they care for everyday, but there is only so much one person can do. Empowering the family to help themselves may be the most helpful thing you are able to do.
What tactics and resources do you use to help children and families deal with eating disorders?