When we think of poor body image among teenagers, our thoughts typically turn to girls. But adolescent boys can experience poor body image, too. How can you help boys develop a positive outlook?
"Poor body image is much more difficult to identify in boys than in girls," said William Hoekstra, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with Allina Medical Clinic — Faribault. "Although boys can develop eating disorders or engage in extreme exercise, their problems are usually not physically apparent or outwardly excessive. The effects of poor body image among boys tend to be internal and are usually associated with low self-esteem."
You can help foster a positive, healthy body image in your son by following these pointers:
Talk about it
"The primary way to tell if an adolescent boy is suffering from poor body image is to talk to him about it," Hoekstra said. "If you suspect a problem, ask questions. Then be patient and listen without judgment."
Signs of a poor body image may be subtle and can include:
- continually rejecting compliments
- having unrealistic expectations for himself
- excessively conforming to others
- having low energy
- becoming withdrawn or depressed.
Model healthy behavior
Kids learn from their environment. As a parent, model healthy behavior by eating a balanced, nutritious diet and making those foods available to your children. And in addition to focusing on his nutrition and activity, pay attention to his media intake.
"The media sends teen boys endless, unattainable messages about ideal body image. During the teenage years, especially, this can be damaging because teen boys are undergoing dramatic body changes and are the most vulnerable to holding themselves to unrealistic standards," Hoekstra said.
"Although we can’t escape the media, discuss these messages with your son and help him gain perspective. Try to teach critical thinking skills without judging or criticizing."
Talk with your teen's doctor
To help your son build a positive body image in safe and healthy ways, talk with your teen’s doctor about your concerns. He or she can discuss growth issues with your son, such as what is normal and what he can expect. The doctor can also refer him to a nutritionist or to a physical trainer for guidance on healthy exercises for adolescents. You can also talk with a dermatologist about how your son can best care for his skin.