Putting good meals on the table and making sure your child is well fed – surely one of the most straight-forward parts of being a parent?
The vast majority of parents worry at some point about their youngsters’ food habits but when it comes to eating disorders you are in a whole different ball game.
We are all surrounded by images of ultra-thin superstars and most of us want to be a few pounds lighter but when those pressures hit teenagers it can become too much. It is a subject that worries the parents of many young girls, and increasingly boys, but is often something that both sides find hard to talk about.
The bad news is it is all too easy for mums to pass their own food hang-ups and diet problems down the generations.
The good news is parents are also in the best position to influence their children into dealing with food, diets and bodies in a positive way.
Although it is unclear whether the problem is really increasing massively or whether we are all just much more aware of it than in the past, it touches many young lives and can devastate families.
Some people are more susceptible to developing eating disorders or other kinds of mental illness but it is usually triggered by something in their lives, a set of circumstances or change of events.
In many cases there is nothing obvious, it could be something as simple as the pressure of exams, but youngsters who develop eating disorders are more likely to have perfectionist tendencies.
Riverdale Specialist Eating Disorders Hospital has run an adult unit in Sheffield for 15 years and recently opened a nine-bed section for teenagers as young as 13.
It offers in-patient care in the most extreme cases but there is also huge emphasis on full family therapy, helping everyone involved.
Claire Lockwood is assistant manager at the centre and has worked with youngsters suffering from eating disorders for many years.
She believes parents can play a vital role in helping their children avoid anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders.
Claire said: “Generally as a society, and particularly for females, we are increasingly affected by media images and the way we think we are supposed to look.
“Eating disorders seems to be affecting children younger and it is thought that is because children aren’t in a child-like state for as long as they used to be.”
If you have worries about your own children there is one clear message: prevention is better than cure.
Children are never too young to learn about sensible eating so start avoiding diets and stop banning junk food.
Accepting that all foods are OK in moderation, making sure your children feel good about themselves and promoting exercise is the way forward.
But if you are worried that your daughter or son already has a problem then tackle it carefully.
“Key research shows that the earlier somebody gets help the better. It is spotting the signs as soon as possible,” Claire says.
“It can particularly be a worry when young adults start to develop and make changes to their diet and make their own food.
“The advice is to promote a positive body image and relationship with food which enables them to make the right choices.
“Support their self-esteem and self-worth to enable young people to feel positive about themselves. That is difficult enough as adults but even harder as a teenager.
“Mums also need to promote positive relationships with food and families eating together. Girls often inherit their relationship with food from their mum’s relationship with food. It is very hard.
“Promote positive body image and doing healthy exercise, being open to different types of food and not feeling guilty.”
Things to look out for include cutting out all fats or carbohydrates, avoiding meals, wearing overly baggy clothing, exercising excessively and getting weighed too regularly.
Claire said: “Often parents that we see don’t always spot it straight away but as they look back they can notice where the changes happened and feel quite guilty about it.
“The advice is broach the subject quite cautiously. The difficulty is if you go into it on a confrontational basis. They can become quite defensive and that will make them more likely to go more underground with it.”
If you are worried about eating disorders contact Riverdale on 0114 2302140. For more general advice call the South Yorkshire Eating Disorder Association on 0114 272 8855.