TikTok Is Filled With Pro-Eating Disorder Content – Here’s How to Talk to Your Teen About It
Despite policies claiming otherwise, popular social media platform TikTok is filled with pro-eating disorder content that can be unavoidable due to the site’s algorithms.
While the app’s community guidelines ban videos that “promote eating habits that are likely to cause health issues”, specifying pro-anorexia and dangerous weight-loss behaviours, videos that show people uncritically displaying or joking about eating disorders are rife.
TikTok’s For You page displays a limitless feed of videos recommended by an algorithm based on the user’s interactions. What separates For You from Instagram or Twitter’s main feeds is that the algorithm will serve videos from anyone on the platform, and not just accounts followed by the user.
This means that teens could be bombarded with videos about eating disorders even if they are not following anyone who promotes weight-loss content. Interacting with these videos in any way will adjust the algorithm, ensuring that they continue to be displayed in their newsfeed.
So what can we do to protect our teens from the unhealthy messages they might be receiving? Here are some great tips to begin a conversation with your child about eating disorders and how to identify pro-eating disorder content.
1. Encourage healthy eating habits
Discuss with your teen how diet can affect your health, appearance, and energy levels. Encourage them to eat whenever they are hungry and eat together as a family whenever possible.
2. Discuss media messages
It’s not just TikTok sending unhealthy messages to our teens. Television programs, movies, and other social media often send the message that only a certain body type is acceptable. Encourage your teen to question the reality of the images and discuss the use of photoshop to send messages of unrealistic and unattainable goals.
3. Promote a healthy body image
Talk to your teen about their self-image and offer reassurance that healthy body shapes vary. Don’t make or allow hurtful nicknames, comments, or jokes based on a person’s physical characteristics, weight, or body shape. Create a rule in the family that no negative commentary is allowed about each other’s bodies at all.
4. Promote self-esteem
Respect your teen’s accomplishments, support their goals and listen when they speak. Look for all the wonderful positive qualities in your child, such as curiosity, generosity, and a wicked sense of humor. Remind them that your love and acceptance are unconditional — not based on their weight or appearance.
5. Share the dangers of dieting and emotional eating
Explain that dieting can compromise your teen’s nutrition, growth, and health, and the fact that it might lead to an eating disorder. Remind them that eating or controlling their diet isn’t a healthy way to cope with emotions. Instead, encourage your teen to talk to loved ones, friends, or a counselor about problems he or she might be facing.
6. Set a good example
If you’re constantly dieting, talking about losing weight yourself, or using food to cope with your emotions, you might have a difficult time encouraging your teen to eat a healthy diet or feel satisfied with his or her appearance. Instead, make conscious choices about your lifestyle and take pride in your own body to set a good example for your teen to follow.
If you suspect that your teen has an eating disorder, talk to them in a loving and non-confrontational way. Schedule an appointment with your family doctor and take it from there. If necessary, your doctor can refer your teen to a mental health provider.
We will never be able to create a world where pro-eating disorder content is erased forever, but protecting our teens from its harmful effects is the next best thing.
You can read more about eating disorders at the Australian Government Department of Health here.