Teaching teenagers is tough. They are neither children nor adults. They think they know everything but still need guidance and advice about growing pains and general insecurities.
Schools have a responsibility to show sensitivity and respect towards these inbetweenies. They also have to be careful about choosing appropriate topics for discussion in the classroom. Sex, politics and religion are the most obvious subjects that need to be handled with care. But there are others.
Today, in my daughter’s French language class, the teacher started talking about obesity and anorexia. She spoke in Italian so there was no linguistic content. Why she felt the need to raise this topic is a mystery, I suspect she was just filling in time at the end of a lesson on the general topic of food. The effect of her ad-hoc discourse was to provoke expressions of revulsion and disgust which made my daughter feel exposed and deeply uncomfortable.
You see, she has an eating disorder and ,what’s more, the teacher knows this. I won’t go into details, suffice to say that my wife and I take her problem seriously and are seeking solutions through professional carers. It’s a slow process and we have learnt enough to know that there are no quick fixes.
She is not a solitary case, many of her age, girls especially, have serious worries over their shape and size – comparing themselves with images of ‘perfect’ bodies on TV, in movies and magazines only makes things worse.
In my opinion, teachers in high schools should not use this topic in classroom discussions and, above all, they should avoid asking the type of questions recommended on one website for teaching kids :
- What causes some people to develop eating disorders?
- How do people with eating disorders feel about their bodies?
- Does the person they see in the mirror always match reality?
- How might an eating disorder affect a person’s family and social life?
These are all good questions but sufferers will not feel comfortable talking about in a group which is not there to offer support or comfort.
Parents have every right to expect educators to be more sensitive to delicate issues than the mass media and teachers have to recognise that they are not psychologists or health advisers.