Teens, Sex and Eating Disorders: An Interview with the Therapy Doc

Never one to turn down free professional advice, I didn’t hesitate when blogger Therapy Doc suggested an interview here on my blog. Coincidentally, while “visiting” my blog TD and her husband are in Israel visiting their son in yeshiva; see here (the end of the post) and here.

Feel free to leave questions for Therapy Doc in the comments. My own questions are in bold.

How did you manage the demands of work vs. family when your children were small?
How did I juggle work and family? A lot didn’t get done.
My kids would probably say I put patients first, and that’s true. My kids seemed okay, but my patients did not.

But it’s not so simple. Both require quite a bit of attention. I was the parent that slithered in at the back of the auditorium late for the school play or for whatever ceremony they had (and they used to have tons of those) and the one who never participated in PTA.

I was extremely lucky, poo, poo, poo, kineyenhara (these are anti-voodoo measures) in that my first degrees seemed to prefer Benevolent Neglect. It’s my world view that the less input the better, when people are struggling to determine who they are. People (see, kids are just small people) subliminally know who they are and it’s their job and delight to fine-tune that. The line, “You had your life” is one of my favorites.

Parents and teachers, of course, should help, should make suggestions based upon obvious aptitudes. They should look out for real potential and encourage a child’s aspirations. I think it’s good to let them try, however, to do the things they think they want to do, even when you’re pretty sure they’ll fail.

And you can’t coach too much. Children who get a steady diet of coaching tend to tune it out. Wouldn’t you?

How did you meet your own personal needs during that time?
What? I had personal needs?

What was your biggest challenge as a mother of school-aged children? A mother of teens? As a grandmother?
We all have them, challenges, and I’m grateful for them. I’ve been pulled in so many directions (including east, Jerusalem). I think deciding where to establish my life and the lives of my children, Israel or America, surely took up a lot of RAM. Still does.

As a parent of school-aged children, I was mostly on the lookout for their emotional health, which was hard because, in case you haven’t noticed, kids fight, and kids are mean, and if they’re stopped in one way, they’ll get you another.

The challenge with teens for me didn’t have anything to do with my own children who seemed pretty well put together and talked to us freely (when they weren’t not talking to us).

My worries were about their friends, so we always had kids over, talked to them when they would let us, encouraged them to hang out at our house. I didn’t have this concept of bad influence. All children are good. They need more influence to get through life. They’re all our children.

Everyone knows (if they’ve been reading my blog) that my greatest challenge as a grandmother is managing my feelings of separation.

A word to other grandmothers, those who do have the opportunity to mentor and enjoy their ainiclech (grandchildren) every day, every week: Be sensitive to those of us who miss ours.

What do you think is the biggest concern of parents today? In the Orthodox Jewish community? Are there issues that should be getting more attention?
Probably the hardest and most important challenge for parents today is teaching kids about healthy relationships and sex. (Use the word, go ahead, it’ll free you.) They’re exposed to so much that is NOT healthy. It’s in the air, the shmutz. It’s everywhere.

Are eating disorders becoming more common and do you have any suggestions for preventing them?
I don’t know if they’re more common or not. I worked with a professor at Hebrew University and translated a study that compared anorexia in the kibbutz from the fifties to the sixties and seventies. Anorexia was virtually nonexistent on the early kibbutzim, where a person’s worth had to do with how much he could give, not how good he could look. In the sixties, when Israel became more industrialized, this changed. Now, of course, anorexia and the other eating disorders, including obesity, are prevalent and have been for years.

To prevent it, I tell parents to eat well themselves, shun the garbage, exercise, and MOST important, teach their daughters real sports at a young age. Let them throw the ball, run the bases, enjoy their bodies. It’s more about being in touch with one’s body and what feels good than anything else (except when there are really good psychological reasons, and I’m not going there today). Empty feels Good.

What do you mean by that?
I think most of us like that empty feeling. We feel good after a fast, we feel good when we’re hungry after exercise. We feel good in the morning, too, before we eat. Some of us don’t like breakfast for that very reason.

It’s one of the reasons that those who really like food, but stay thin, take their eating slowly. They take the time to savor, to enjoy the sense of taste. Kids who are “anorexic” as teenagers often stop voluntary fasting (anorexia) when they get married. That’s another story, and sure, I’ll get to the eating disorders one day. For now suffice it to say that eating is healthy. Not eating is healthy. It’s a matter of timing.

Any words of wisdom for those of us with challenging teenagers?
Yeah. Keep an eye on them. Buy a leash. And listen to them without falling to that temptation to answer back. Always ask another question. Assume you know NOTHING. They often think that you do.

And get therapy, sure. For everybody.

Therapy Doc, thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. Enjoy the rest of your trip.


  1. Thanks for the opportunity to blab on and on. I did make a mistake, though.
    I wrote:
    And you can’t coach too much. Children who get a steady diet of coaching tend to tune it out. Wouldn’t you?
    But I meant, You CAN coach too much and should try to avoid it.

  2. teach their daughters real sports at a young age
    My daughter is very into ballet; in general, dance is great exercise and it’s social. I’ve started to introduce her to Israeli dance.
    You CAN coach too much
    As a child, I felt preached to, too often. I did a good job of learning the “tune out” thing, which as an adult I am still trying to unlearn.
    Thank you both.

  3. Good interview, I enjoyed reading TD’s thoughts.

  4. mominisrael says

    TD, it’s ambiguous. I think you meant it to mean that you must not coach too much. Because the following sentence clarifies it, I left it.
    On Saturday Night Live, there was once a skit about a retiring director of a nuclear reactor. He told the staff that they need to remember one thing: “You can’t put too much water in a nuclear reactor.” Afterward they are not sure what he meant.

  5. This is the problem with double negatives.
    So I say, you can’t use double negatives too much. Wait. I mean, you can use double negatives too much.
    Or don’t use double negatives much, ever. Or you can’t use double negatives and still not be understood. Or understood.
    Oh, forget it.

  6. Oh, ballet is awesome. Unless your kid isn’t coordinated and hates it, in which case, there has to be a sport for her. Not every little girl is destined for the toe shoes, and that’s for the best.

  7. Wonderful interview!
    Too late for me; my kids are grown and out of the house.

  8. Couldn’t agree more that sports are important for girls. Any suggestions on how to get PE as a regular feature in local schools, especially those that lean right? Seems Phys Ed is a once a week deal in our local schools and it is near impossible to find activities for high school girls because school lets out so late. (Fortunately, I don’t have high schoolers yet, so the concern is not immediate).

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