Eating disorders

Keeping kids safe online when they have an eating disorder

If your child has an eating disorder, or is showing signs of unusual eating patterns, avoidance of food, or excessive eating or exercise, it is important to trust your instincts and get help. Eating disorders are complex in their cause and treatment. They affect children from all backgrounds, all sexes and all ages, with a peak during adolescence.

Eating disorders are real, and they are dangerous

Eating disorders claim more lives than any other psychiatric disorder, but they can be treated. As with any disorder, it is often easier to treat it when it is caught early, so if you have any parent alarms going off, seek help.  The Eating Disorder First Aid Guidelines will give you some ideas about how to get things started.

The best place to get further help and support is through the Butterfly Foundation or a local State based eating disorder organisation. Your GP will also know of local health services, counsellors or psychologists that specialise in eating disorders.

Eating disorders are a specialised area, and do need specialised treatment.

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While you seek help offline, it is important to support your child to stay connected safely online

Unfortunately there are many websites, forums and blogs encouraging eating disorders, and providing strategies to help people with disorders hide their symptoms and behaviours from their friends and family.

It is fairly normal for a person with an eating disorder to search these websites, as they feel welcomed and connected into these communities where other people experiencing eating disorders share their stories and tips….but these can be extremely dangerous.

Part of the treatment plan you develop with your child, and the treating professional should include an agreement about their online contacts, and an agreement that you will monitor them online for their safety.

This needs a team effort

If you don’t live with your child’s other parent, ensure they are also on board with any plans. If they won’t co-operate leave it to the professional to discuss the issues with them. 

It is also a good idea to inform any family friends or parents of friends that your child spends time with, to ensure they are aware of a need for monitoring, without embarrassing your child.

Be prepared for a bumpy ride

It is normal for people who are unwell with an eating disorder to feel angry, ashamed, guilty, hurt, and extremely anxious. They may take this out on you, as their disordered thinking may be telling them you are a threat. Their mind is telling them to keep up their dangerous behaviour, and you are getting in the way. It is important to find your own support to help you through this difficult time.

Supports and Resources

Support and information for people experiencing eating disorders, their family and friends, and professionals

  • The Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders offers a multitude of services and programs that provide support, treatment, prevention, early intervention, education and training.
  • Mental Health First Aid Australia has step by step guidelines to support someone you suspect has an eating disorder. It includes the warning signs to look for, ideas about how to approach the person with your concerns, what to avoid when talking to the person about your concerns, and how to get professional help for the person.
  • eHeadspace has a fact sheet about eating disorders for young people.
  • Reachout has fact sheets about eating disorders for young people.
  • Your GP or local doctor can help you find local services for support.

Online and Phone Support, Information and Referrals

  • eHeadspace. 1800 650 890. Open 9am-1am daily (AEST).
  • Kids Helpline. 1800 55 1800. Phone support is there all day, every day. Online support is open from 8am-midnight every day (AEST).
  • Lifeline. 13 11 14. Phone support for all issues, for people of all ages.

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