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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Eating disorders one of many teen ‘coping mechanisms’comment (0)

June 11, 2009

By Brittany N. Howerton


Because adults often do not know what to look for and children are good at hiding what they do not want others to see, addictions — like eating disorders — often run rampant among teenagers, said Caroline Nichols, a licensed certified social worker and counselor at Samaritan Counseling Center in Birmingham.

The National Eating Disorders Association reports that “anorexia nervosa ranks as the third-most common chronic illness among adolescent U.S. females.”

Oftentimes teens can have a predisposition to an addiction based on “family of origin” or some childhood trauma or dysfunction, Nichols said. But addictions also can have roots in the examples they see.

“Parents must be aware of what’s going on at home,” she said. “If there is dysfunction, marital strain, financial strain, any abuse or an addiction in the home, the kids will feel that — no matter how hard parents try to hide it.”

Nichols noted that establishing open communication within the family early on is important. The more a child feels he or she can communicate openly about issues and problems within the home, the easier it will be to deal with anything that might arise.

And a child might need to talk to someone outside of the family, whether a counselor or youth leader, she added.

 “If we have a healthy relationship with God, we do put our faith in Him to walk alongside us, but God requires us to do our part, too, and sometimes that is going to counseling,” Nichols said.

It took Amy Kilpatrick — wife of Pastor Ross Kilpatrick of First Baptist Church, Reeltown, in Notasulga in Tuskegee Lee Baptist Association — five years before she went to Remuda Ranch, an Arizona-based center that provides inpatient and residential programs for those dealing with eating disorders. Her struggle began when she was 15.

“Looking back, when I looked like I was doing my best was when I was doing my worst,” Kilpatrick said. “I was excelling in so many things, but the way I maintained myself was not healthy so that’s a deceptive thing. It masquerades that you’re doing great but really you’re falling apart.”

She noted as a believer, there is so much shame attached to this addiction.

“People need to see there’s hope,” Kilpatrick added.

In order to provide that hope, church leaders need to be educated about problems teens face but also be aware of when professional help is needed, Nichols said.

Church leaders should pay attention and get involved by
- being up-to-date on technology, such as social-networking sites and new video games.
- keeping up with the media to see what is out there.
- talking to schoolteachers and counselors to inquire about trends they are seeing among students.
- developing an adolescent empowerment program to train teens to make good decisions and provide them with a safe environment away from home to talk about self-esteem.
- holding focus groups inside the church to talk with teens and hear their stories of what they struggle with.

“If you’re going to be willing to get into somebody’s life who is dealing with this, then be willing to get into their life,” Kilpatrick said.

“They need love with truth and truth with love. It goes hand in hand.”

Nichols said there are two main fears people often have about getting involved: that teens won’t talk and that once an addiction is discovered, they have to do something about it.

“If you don’t know how to handle it, call your local counseling center, call Samaritan Counseling Center, call me,” she said. “If I can’t help, I‘ll find someone that can.”

For more information or help, contact Nichols at 205-795-7749 or counselorcaroline@gmail.com.

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