Here’s a scenario: Your daughter, a junior in high school, is late for school and is insisting that she can’t enter the classroom because everyone will look at her and assume that she did something wrong. She’s having a crying fit, saying that you have to let her miss the whole day at school, or at least let her wait to go to school until it’s a passing period or a recess. Here’s another: Your son, a good student and something of a perfectionist, is insisting that he’s sick with a stomachache.
So, first let’s start with the premise of FBT, or Family Based Therapy. It’s a model designed to support parents in refeeding their starving anorexic teens. The basic idea: The parents decide what the teens should eat, put it in front of them, and the teens eat it.
Life is rough for teens today, and particularly for girls. Kids believe that they have to get all As, have a full plate of extracurriculars -- along with a bustling social-media feed -- and look fabulous while they do it all. What’s more, they have to appear that they’re doing it without breaking a sweat, cultivating a kind of effortless perfectionism that insures that no one knows how tough it is for them to hold it all together. No wonder teens have record-high levels of depression and anxiety. While it might be possible to juggle all this for a short period of time, it’s an impossible task to continually pull it off.
There’s no room at the ER; It’s one of those high-volume moments, so we’re sitting on a gurney in the bustling hallway. The doctor is talking in a calm voice, despite the swirling hubbub.
“The good news,” she tells my nine-year-old son, as though about to pronounce the victory of a beloved team in the World Series, “is that you will be able to live a totally normal life. Your mother is smart and educated, “ she nods at me and I fleetingly wonder how she can know such a thing. “She will help you. You’ll be able to do anything you want.”
Dinner is done, piles of dishes flanking the sink. The kids have been good about cleaning up for the last few nights, so I release them -- a vacation treat. They head down to the beach, the three of them piling in the car together, my oldest at the wheel, my youngest asking to take her bike so her brothers can help her practice.