How To Talk To Your Son About His Body

14 Aug

I loved this post on how to talk to your daughter about her body, and I wanted to create something similar for parents of boys. My friend Nathan and I put this list together, and would love to hear your input.

How to talk to your son about his body, step one: talk to your son about his body. Give him the vocabulary that he needs to communicate how he feels about himself.

Teach him that it’s normal to think about his appearance.

Teach him that it’s fine to want to be handsome or pretty.

Teach him that being a boy doesn’t take away his right to have feelings about his body.

If your son tells you that he is unhappy because he is too fat or too skinny, don’t dismiss him. Don’t tell him that boys don’t have to worry about stuff like that. Don’t tell him that he’s lucky that he’s not a girl, because then it would really be a problem.

Listen to him – really listen – and keep your opinions about his appearance to yourself. Don’t tell him that you’ll help him lose weight. Don’t tell him that he’ll bulk up when he gets older. Just listen, and encourage him to explain how and why he feels that way.

If your son is older, talk to him about male bodies in the media. Ask him what he thinks of the storefronts for Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch; ask him if he thinks that images represent how he thinks men should look. Talk about the fact that Photoshop is used to alter images of boys as well as those of girls.

Don’t make jokes about your son’s weight. In fact, don’t make any comments about his weight. Don’t talk about how funny it is that he was so skinny as a little kid and now he’s not. Don’t poke him in the side and tell him that his ribs stick out. Don’t sigh enviously over how thin he is.

Don’t assume that you can talk about your son’s body any differently than you talk about your daughter’s.

If you notice that your son is gaining or losing weight, remember that these can be signs of depression. Without asking leading questions or otherwise being obvious about it, try to get some insight into how your son is feeling. Be sensitive to the fact that if you’ve noticed a change in your son’s weight, chances are good that he’s very much aware of it and may feel ashamed or embarrassed.

If you notice that your son is rapidly losing weight, seems to be trying to limit what he eats, or is otherwise occupied with the idea that he is fat, remember that eating disorders are on the rise among teenage boys. If you suspect that your son might have an eating disorder, don’t try to “fix” him by telling him that his body is fine and he has nothing to worry about. Eating disorders are serious, and if you have are concerned that your son might have one, you should contact your pediatrician immediately.

Don’t comment on other men’s bodies – neither positively nor negatively. Don’t communicate an idealized version of masculine beauty, and don’t run other men down. And for the love of God don’t make jokes about hair loss, or say that you don’t find bald men attractive. Don’t make jokes about short men. Don’t make jokes about body hair. Don’t make jokes about penis size. Seriously. Those things aren’t funny.

Don’t make negative comments about your own body. Don’t let him overhear you calling yourself fat, or saying that you should go on a diet. He will learn to love and accept his body by watching how you treat yours. Always remember that he will take his cues on body acceptance from you.

Teach your son to be kind to himself.

Teach him to be kind to other people.

Teach your son that his body is good for all kinds of things – dancing, sports, digging in the dirt, yoga, gymnastics, figure skating, or even just sitting quietly and thinking.

Teach him to move his body in lots of different ways, from lifting big rocks to spinning pirouettes, because those things are fun and they feel good. Teach him to stretch and touch his toes because this will help keep his muscles flexible and elastic. Teach him to do cartwheels because there is no greater expression of joy. Teach him to lie in a patch of sunlight and dive into a good book.

Don’t teach your son about “good” foods and “bad” foods, because food shouldn’t be subject to moral judgment. Instead, teach him about foods that will fill him up and give him energy versus foods that will leave him feeling unsatisfied and cranky an hour later. Teach him that candy and desserts are great, but that they won’t give him the drive he needs to get through the day.

Teach your son to cook. Teach him to cook anything and everything – scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese, tooth-achingly rich chocolate cake. Teach him how to sauté vegetables and whisk egg whites.

Prove to your son that he doesn’t need a woman to cook for him.

Prove to him that there is no such thing as a “girly” interest or hobby.

Teach your son that people come in all different shapes and sizes. Teach him that there is no one specific way that he, as a boy, should look or act – his appearance and his interests are perfect because he is perfect. But teach him, too, that there is nothing bad or shameful about feeling uncomfortable with his body. Teach him that there is nothing wrong with wanting to talk about his body, or wanting to find ways to feel happier in his body.

Teach him that you’re there to listen.

Teach him that he’s not alone.

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57 Responses to “How To Talk To Your Son About His Body”

  1. soma satori August 14, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    I think this is great. I had some pretty serious body issues when I was a kid, to the point that it led to a good six years of bulimia. Body image can utterly destroy your sense of self (I’m slender-to-average weight these days and I still have terrible body dysmorphic disorder). I suppose it depends on which cultural group with whom you associate. I always wanted to be one of those skinny punk/goth kids when I was a teenager. Got my wish and nearly ruptured my esophagus. So thank you for writing this out. Hopefully more parents of boys take this sort of thing to heart.

    Mass media expects EVERYONE to look a specific way, to meet some bullshit idea of beauty that was built in a boardroom. The more parents teach their daughters that they don’t *need* to look like Victoria Secret models to be validated, and their sons that they don’t need to look like an Abercrombie kid, maybe that sort of subversive body shaming will eventually be eradicated.

  2. ShortSightedYouth August 14, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    Such an important message for people to hear and understand! It’s so hard in this day and age to feel unscathed by the high standards of beauty. It’s a challenge, but it’s interesting no less.

  3. hunter August 14, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    more than just cooking, and towards both sexes, girls and boys should be raised to need nothing from the opposite sex. At least in America, I feel young men and women are brought up looking for a significant other to “complete themselves”, which is incongruent w/a healthy self image. This is by no means an original thought, but we need to be comfortable w/ourselves long before we can be comfortable w/someone else.

  4. Dawn Frazier August 14, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

    This is an excellent post. My son is 8 at the moment and doesn’t seem too bothered about his looks, which is good. I’m always telling him he’s handsome though. I always think that if you hear something often enough, you start to believe it, so I’m trying to give him positive thoughts all the time.

    • donofalltrades August 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

      I think this is an excellent point. I’m 40 now and still remember all the positivity my mom fed me about how smart or handsome or funny I was. When you hear it enough, you do start to believe it, even if it is from your mother! While I don’t necessarily believe that kids are as fragile as some tend to think they are (they’re tough and can handle SOME ribbing), we do need to praise them for being who they are so they’ll grow up confident.

  5. Rosie August 15, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    Reblogged this on FEMBORG.

  6. Jill W August 16, 2013 at 5:19 am #

    There are some abnosome tips on here…thanks so much for your help!

  7. gus August 18, 2013 at 1:43 am #

    And one more thing — don’t leave the “how your body smells is totally natural, you may just want to find ways to deal with it” conversation up to Axe or Tag Body Spray! The ads for those products are creating and playing on entirely new fears for young men, doing a horrible job of insisting that buying cloying cologne is vital if you want buxom young women to fall all over you. I taught media literacy at a college last year, and those ads were very much on my students’ minds. I still think the “smell like a chemical factory” push is relatively new, culturally, in the US; if we fight now, maybe we can turn the tide…

  8. Dara August 20, 2013 at 7:08 am #

    This is really lovely. We boys need positive reinforcement too! A great response to the post you referred to although essentially it’s all the same message which is about positivity and health and good energy. Cultural conditioning is so insidious though that it is vital to get messages like this out there more. Nice!

  9. bernasvibe August 26, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    Co-raised 3 sons and they’re now all grown up educated pretty well rounded young men..These are pretty good tips! Promoting good body image does indeed begin at home..Often people forget that & thus set their children UP for a lifetime of issues/insecurities about their bodies. It does however help if both parents also feel good about their own bodies..Kind of came quite naturally for me & my exhubby to give the same advice we felt/followed. 2 thumbs UP on your write..

  10. Karl Drobnic August 26, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Lots of thoughtful points. It’s hard for youth not to see themselves in relation to the ways media portrays people. You offer some good alternative talking points.

  11. broadsideblog August 26, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    Love this.

    I don’t have sons, but have had two husbands (so far!) and it’s been interesting to see their sensitivities or insecurities about their appearance. I make it a point to tell my husband (who, being Hispanic with darker skin, gets enough stuff about that, often mistaken as Middle Eastern or Indian or…) how much I love his soft skin, lovely eyes, strong shoulders and the hands we hold often. He worries about being bald, when I barely notice!

  12. rami ungar the writer August 26, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    These are great tips. If I ever have a son, I might use them.

  13. andyc37 August 26, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    What a terrific article. Very sensible and full of common sense. Thank you.

  14. blissluk August 26, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    Great advice for all parents and those to be! There’s so much power in giving someone your undevided attention and listening to him we often forget about. Being there for your son in times of puberty is something I believe every growing wished to have at some point in his life.

  15. what we wanna do now. August 26, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Reblogged this on what we wanna do now. and commented:
    I love this. I think my Bobbys need it. um.

  16. allthoughtswork August 26, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    “Don’t teach your son about “good” foods and “bad” foods, because food shouldn’t be subject to moral judgment. Instead, teach him about foods that will fill him up and give him energy versus foods that will leave him feeling unsatisfied and cranky an hour later. Teach him that candy and desserts are great, but that they won’t give him the drive he needs to get through the day.”

    How about letting him figure out which foods work for him on his own by demonstrating how to listen to his body? You’re right, there really are no bad foods out there, only unpleasant timing and quantities that vary from person to person, hour to hour, age to age. He’s already bombarded all day long with contradictory messages about food from commercials to his peers to his school to his own dinner table. He’s taught himself to tune all that out and just reach for what feels good. So, teach him how to pay attention to how he feels–REALLY feels.

    First, talk the talk and just call it all “food.” You’re on to something good when you say there are all types of people and they shouldn’t be judged for their differences, so keep that ball rolling on the food topic. Next, walk the walk and be a shining example by eating all those different foods with him and then making a big deal about checking in with yourself later to see how you feel:

    A: “Oh, man, that doesn’t feel so good now. How are you feelin’, buddy? Tired? Me, too. Next time, I’m gonna try just having half a slice of pie and see how that feels–you know, like a scientific experiment. I’m gonna go lie down.”

    B: “That banana protein smoothie we made this morning has got me freakin’ with energy! Wanna go biking?”

    Now, it’s a game where he wins twice if he chooses something his body wants: he feels better and he gets more time with Dad. You didn’t have to admonish him, dis the pie and made it bad, or even give him a direct order. He found his own way; he empowered himself. He’ll come to believe that there is nothing to fear out there because he is smart enough to make the right choice all on his own. And he’ll teach it so his son.

  17. Midwestern Plant Girl August 26, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    Great 411.
    Congrats on getting pressed!

  18. Juliette August 26, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    My teenage daughter has often commented on how hard it is for boys (body image, life, etc). My husband agreed. Boys are awesome and so is your post.

  19. Rachelle @ Sweet Home Pasadena August 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

    Wonderful, wonderful post. Thank you for reminding us that boys and young men are not immune to insecurities about their own body image.

  20. aprincessinprocess August 26, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    I love this. I was just hosting one my best friends (a male) from college and he opened up to my husband and I (now 2 years later) about how he struggled with an eating disorder all throughout high school and college. He never felt comfortable talking to me (I openly have an ed and did during college) or any other friends because he was ashamed. He “was a guy.” As a therapist I’m all too familiar with the stigma and the taboo of men struggling with eating disorders. It should be okay to talk about. Thank you for giving parents direction and tools for how to talk to sons about body image. So important!

  21. gliderpilotlee August 27, 2013 at 1:26 am #

    This is a good start, adjust to fit the environment. I’ve noticed other peoples image of themselves and wish them well along with whatever they pursue to be more toned/ just comfortable in their skin. From a fitness blog: can you do what you want to do?

  22. Danielle S August 27, 2013 at 1:44 am #

    Wonderful!! It’s so important to teach our daughters AND sons about our inner and outer image. Building self-esteem at a young age is vital. Both genders struggle with weight and image issues, so I’m glad you addressed this! Good for you, well done!

  23. nirupamaprv August 27, 2013 at 6:52 am #

    Very well written. I shall definitely share this with my sister who has a son.
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  24. babyd0n August 27, 2013 at 8:29 am #

    Reblogged this on On Point of Inquiry.

  25. moodsnmoments August 27, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    Lovely. The thing about teaching a boy about respecting and lovinf his body and never objectifying himself or anyone will make the world so much more happier – there will be lesser gender crimes and ridicule which will bring a much more simpler cleaner and happier world.
    The bit about no such thing like a girly hobby/interests and not needing a woman to cook are again profound.
    beautiful post, thanks for sharing your views and congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  26. goodolewoody August 27, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    Reblogged this on GoodOleWoody's Blog and Website and commented:
    PARENTS…THIS IS FOR YOU!

  27. Melissa BarlowBowman (@mcbarlow36) August 27, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    I read the blog post you linked to on girls. I commented at the time that most of the advice appled to boys as well. So, I’m glad to see that WordPress featured your post too. Great post!

  28. kiki2point0 August 27, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    This is great advice. I don’t think I talked to my son about his body at all, what I did do was encourage him to play any and all sports he liked. He ended up taking to swimming and becoming a competitive swimmer. And for a sport where they wear very little, I never once heard anyone talk about anyone’s body. I think just instilling good habits around food an exercise go along way in to teaching them.

  29. anthonyarchibold August 27, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    Reblogged this on Dark, Handsome, and Defiant and commented:
    Boys think/talk about their body image just as much as girls.

  30. marnitorres August 27, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    Reblogged this on Marni Torres <3.

  31. http://lizardomd.com/ August 27, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    This should be more than a post on freshly pressed! I had more than a few issues with myself as a kid….I kinda of hit my prime in my twenties….but I still remember those years and they do affect my self esteem. Thanks for posting this! Its our responsibility to teach our kids. I sure would not want them to go through what I did.

    Ramon
    LizardoMD.com

  32. momasteblog August 27, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    This is amazing, pure poetry. As a mom of both a son and a daughter who are still quite small, I am already noticing how differently we tend to do things if we aren’t paying constant attention. . . and you know what they say about not paying attention. . . This post is just so heart warming and wrenching at the same time. It has given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

  33. awax1217 August 27, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

    All your comments are right on. The main thing is to communicate.

  34. muddledmom August 27, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    This is a beautiful post. I have a daughter and a son and I’ve learned it is important to teach them both how to feel comfortable in their own skin. I think boys’ feelings sometimes get overlooked, but this is a wonderful reminder that they have needs too. I hope more people read this. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  35. curiosityisnotnecessity August 27, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

    Reblogged this on Curiosity is not necessity.

  36. girdlehurdler August 28, 2013 at 4:21 am #

    Reblogged this on Title Being Considered by Literary Critics: TBA and commented:
    For my nephew, who’s still only 6 months old. I hope I can remember to read this again and share with my sister.

  37. thefitzgeraldtimes August 28, 2013 at 4:28 am #

    Now THAT is positive parenting!!!!!!

  38. jackzivvi August 28, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    Really good post, Some thought provoking stuff here and very affirming and helpful thank you.

  39. ankushmehta August 31, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Reblogged this on Icanbeatit.

  40. optjess September 1, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    I really enjoyed this post, (eye opening) thank you. I have 3 boys… 13, 8, and 2. (and a daughter 10) but I hadn’t really thought about talking about their body like with my daughter.

  41. Scott W September 1, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Some good points and some I just don’t agree with at all. The one about not joking about our bodies or talking about other men’s bodies is just too PC. You have to be able to talk openly and candidly rather than avoiding it. I felt those conflicted with your other points.

  42. majoworkshop September 2, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    I think it is somewhat easier for boys of this generation than boys of mine (I’m 50) as there is more openness and honesty, and modern parents are more informed. For all their faults I think my parents did a fairly good job on me, although I had a lot a emotional stuff I went through growing up queer, and that later developed into an anxiety and panic disorder and depression. I survived it. I function. Great article.

  43. Kappaloca September 3, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Reblogged this on It's a Mans World.

  44. Kappaloca September 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    My son at the age of 11 asked me if he could shave off the hairs growing near his penis because it’s embarrassing, I have still not answered him. I had to run from the Bathroom and cover my mouth with a Towel. I laughed so much it made me cry. I have reblogged to Its a mans world…. http://wobblythings.wordpress.com/ Hope he will read it someday and see the humour in it.

  45. monsteryarns September 6, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Thank you for writing this. I have two boys 10 and 12 and I agree with everything you say.

  46. marymtf September 7, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    Brilliant points. I have sons and grandsons (and granddaughters). There’s not enough literature out there about how to help raise boys. For people who like Oliver, want more, I’d like to recommend Stephen Biddulph’s ‘Raising Boys.’.

  47. meganelizabethxo September 24, 2013 at 6:58 am #

    Reblogged this on MeganElizabeth and commented:
    Awesome

  48. eddiejianluo December 14, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    Reblogged this on D&M and commented:
    To be an excellent listener.

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