Q: I recently discovered that my daughter has been visiting pro-anorexia-type websites, referred to her by a friend at school.
What can I do to ensure she stops visiting them and that she is not taking the content of these sites as fact?
A: Of course, the one way to ensure that your daughter doesn’t visit pro-anorexia websites is to give away her phone or computer. But since that’s not realistic—and not a productive solution either—you can focus instead on what she’s already read and seen on these sites and ask her what she thinks about the messages the sites are promoting.
Pro-anorexia websites, also sometimes known as pro-ana sites, are put together by people who have eating disorders, and whether or not they’ve actually been diagnosed with an eating disorder, they are sick and need treatment. The sites can serve several purposes for the people who visit them: reinforcing their control over their eating habits, and supporting their efforts to conceal what they’re doing are two common topics.
The websites usually present information in a positive light, whether it’s promoting the virtues of self-control or glorifying ultra-thin models and celebrities. It’s not always easy to start a conversation with your child about this, but asking the right questions and offering the right information can be an important start. For example, you can talk to your daughter about how images in the media are often altered with Photoshop, or how the average model’s size and measurements are far below what’s considered healthy.
One interesting point about the existence of these websites is that they’re not only available to young people, they’re available to everyone, including parents and healthcare professionals, so we can see for ourselves what these teens are talking about.
If you think your daughter may be developing an eating disorder, suggest that she see your pediatrician or family doctor. The earlier her symptoms are addressed, the better are the chances for treating them.