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Sixteen-Year-Old Not Eating

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My 16-year-old daughter has been dumping her breakfast in her desk drawer (I would make it and take it to her, otherwise she didn't have time to eat). I recently found the drawer of food. She has been losing weight and we talked about that, but this new information concerns me. Her reply to what's going on is the standard "I don't know." In talking to her though, I really do believe she doesn't know why she wasn't hungry and couldn't eat. Physical health is excellent. What should I do? She denies depression, anxiety (too much), and does seem to be quite happy.

A: This is disturbing behavior any way you view it. She was clearly trying to make you believe that she was eating this food. Some may argue she left the food there for you to find, consciously or unconsciously. She certainly could have disposed of it and brought the clean plates down if she wanted to keep the secret.

How much weight has she dropped? Have you seen her without clothing to even know what she looks like? Kids have great ways of fashionably hiding their emaciated bodies. I wonder just how "excellent" her health really is. Is this your opinion or is this the opinion of a medical doctor who is aware of her weight loss and has given her a comprehensive workup to check out her vitals?

I'm not surprised she denies anything's wrong. Believe me, you don't need another flare to tell you that something is wrong. Your daughter needs medical and psychological help, now! I wouldn't proceed with this in a desperate emotional manner. I would calmly, firmly tell her that you love her and care for her too much to let her health become compromised. Make an appointment with her primary care doctor and tell her what your concerns are, and research a therapist who has a good reputation for working with adolescent girls where eating disorders are suspected. I wouldn't be taking such a hard line if I hadn't seen these symptoms dozens of times before -- none of the cases I know of and/or have treated would have corrected themselves without some professional intervention. Good luck and keep me posted if you'd like.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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