Dear Dr. Wallace:
I live with my older sister who is 16 and our mother who divorced our father 10 years ago. We have no contact with him. My sister is a very beautiful young lady. She is intelligent and very popular at school. Even though she has a beautiful figure, my mom has been on her to lose weight. Our mother feels that a girl can never be too thin. Because of this, my sister seems to be literally starving herself. In the past three months, she has lost about 15 pounds, and she is now very, very thin. I honestly believe my sister could be classified as anorexic, but I’m not sure what determines that. She often says that she still feels fat, and I see her constantly weighing herself on the scale in the bathroom.
I’m really worried about her, and so is her boyfriend. I’ve discussed this with our mom, and she doesn’t seem worried at all even though my sister eats like a bird. Please print my letter, and please tell her this “thin thing” is getting out of control.
— Worried Sis,
Dear Worried Sis: Talk right away with your school counselor, nurse or favorite teacher, explaining your sister’s condition and your mother’s apparent ambivalence about it. Ask this professional to talk with your mother first, then your sister. If, indeed, your sister is anorexic, she should receive professional counseling immediately. Good for you that you are observant and concerned about your sister. Be sure to follow up right away. I know you love and care for your sister; letting an adult into a position to check on the situation is a great gift you are giving to her. If the situation was reversed, you would wish for her to do the same for you, so do not hesitate. Take this action immediately.
Dear Dr. Wallace: In a recent column, you responded to a plea from a high school graduate. She was seeking permission to cut the apron strings from a “very immature” mother who didn’t drive, shop alone or even use the Yellow Pages without guidance from her daughter. Your answer was a good one — if the assessment of the mother’s problem was correct.
I am no professional, but I am a literacy tutor; as I read, bells began to go off. The symptoms screamed: “I can’t read!” Would this not be possible without the family’s knowledge? You’d better believe it is!
The skill of reading is the key that unlocks the rest of the “mature” world in which most of us live.
The reasons for illiteracy are varied and too numerous to list here. Contrary to popular beliefs (for example, the ignorant underachiever assumption), the nonreader is usually an intelligent adult with poor self-image and a strong sense of shame. These persons often have the capacity to learn to read but never did so due to life circumstances, and the resulting shame has kept them in a private cocoon of illiteracy.
So, Dr. Wallace, consider the possibility that, perhaps, this girl’s mom just never learned to read. Did you ever consider that?
— Literacy Tutor,
Dear Literacy Tutor: Such a possibility honestly never crossed my mind at the time I answered that letter. Thanks to you and the other dozen readers who suggested that this mom might be illiterate. The really good news on this topic is that our nation is loaded with literacy programs staffed by compassionate volunteers who thrive on helping those in need learn to read. Readers: Whenever you come across a person who you feel may have difficulty reading, give them earnest encouragement to seek out local programs that can help them. There is absolutely no shame in improving oneself no matter what the topic is — especially one as important as literacy.
Thank you, Literacy Tutor, for sharing your observation with us and for the important work you do.