Dear Hobie & Monk,
My middle school daughter walked into the girls bathroom the other day and overheard two very popular girls talking openly and casually about how they, as a matter of course, throw up after they eat in order to stay thin. This bothered her tremendously, and I don’t know what my responsibility is with this information. Do I tell the school or the girls’ parents and risk getting my daughter in hot water? I am worried as much for these girls as I am about modeling the correct response for my daughter.
– Looking for the right response
Hobie: By now, you all know that I’m fond of finding the amusing side of life’s challenges and using humor whenever possible — and appropriate — to defuse tricky situations.
This is not one of those situations.
Disordered eating of this magnitude is dead serious, and your concern is spot-on. I’m so glad that your daughter came to you, so that you could not only discuss how uncomfortable and upset she was, but also perhaps have a broader conversation about health, eating behaviors, social pressure and any other relevant issues.
You can stop at the boundaries of your family, but I applaud you for also seeing the bigger picture and wanting to help the other girls. It sounds as if you know their parents, and talking directly with them about what you’ve heard (and remember, it’s what you’ve heard, not what you know) is one option.
I would suggest that another option is contacting the principal and counselor, since presumably they would want to know if girls are routinely making themselves throw up in school bathrooms. Staff could then handle the situation directly with the other families and reinforce messages about healthy behaviors to all students.
Monk: I agree with Hobie’s emphasis on the serious nature of the situation and hope you will also consider following up to make sure the girls get the help they need. You might think about talking with your daughter before you decide specifically how you will follow up. She may appreciate being consulted and may benefit from hearing your thought process.
I would start by emphasizing that, as a parent, you feel strongly that it’s your responsibility to help the kids in your community stay safe. And girls who are routinely vomiting to stay thin need help.
Convey that you intend to pass on the information to either school personnel (and perhaps request anonymity) or directly with the parents of the girls involved. Ask your daughter for her thoughts about how to proceed and discuss the potential consequences of pursuing either option.
In this way, you are not only modeling “the correct response” in the action you take on behalf of the friends, but also in communicating to your daughter that you’re on her team and that you can work together to manage tough problems like this one.
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Hobie and Monk are two Alexandria women with husbands, children, dogs, jobs, mortgages, unmet New Year’s resolutions, obsessions with impractical shoes, English novels … and Ph.D.s in clinical psychology. Their advice, while fabulous, should not be construed as therapeutic within a doctor-patient context or substituted for the advice of readers’ personal advisors.