During puberty, adolescents’ bodies go through major changes that they first have to come to terms with. At the same time, young people are looking for affirmation and recognition. Social media such as Instagram, TikTok and WhatsApp also play a role in this: Selfies are sent or posted and positive feedback is hoped for. Influencers show themselves in perfect and slim bodies, which serve as role models for young people.
If young people cannot find a contact person among their family or friends, or if they prefer to talk to strangers out of insecurity, the Internet offers many opportunities to obtain information and exchange ideas anonymously.
In addition to a lot of helpful information, you can unfortunately also find offers on the Internet that glorify self-harming behavior of – especially young – people. Pro-ana or pro-mia blogs are forums where people suffering from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia can contact each other and exchange ideas. It is mainly young girls who meet there. Pro-ana or pro-mia are deliberately the chosen abbreviations for pro-anorexia nervosa (anorexia) and pro-bulimia nervosa (binge eating disorder). Blogs are not about supporting each other in getting a handle on the disease. Instead, the disease is glorified.
In WhatsApp groups, which often come about via such blogs, young people spur each other on to eat as little as possible. They take part in hunger challenges or have to prove that they have lost weight by photographing the scales every week. Anyone who doesn’t follow the rules gets kicked out. The blogs also feature glorifying content such as creeds or the ten pro-ana commandments: “If I’m not thin, then I can’t be attractive,” for example, is the first commandment.
Many pro-ana blogs have now been blocked or are no longer in operation. Instagram, Pinterest or other image networks also block content with the respective hashtags and refer to counseling services instead. However, through blogs that are not yet blocked, it is still easy to view glorifying images and videos or access WhatsApp groups.
First of all, it is important that you are always the contact person for your child, also with regard to his or her Internet use. It is difficult for you to prevent your child from encountering inappropriate content. Therefore, you should talk to your child about the fact that there are also problematic sites on the Internet and be available as a contact person. If you yourself land on websites that specifically glorify eating disorders, contact the platform’s support or have them checked by the complaints office www.internetbeschwerdestelle.de or by www.jugendschutz.net.
Regardless of your child’s online use, you should always boost your child’s self-esteem and avoid negative comments about their figure or weight. If you suspect you have an eating disorder, you can find information and help at counseling centers, e.g., the Federal Center for Health Education.