Tips for parents of boys
In Elementary school
Emphasize health over looks. Talk about what boys' bodies can do, rather than what they look like. Make sure your son knows you love him for who is he is.
Keep kids active. Don't let them "veg" in front of a screen too long at any given time.
Keep an eye on your kid's social networks, texts and other online comments. Today's kids are living in a constant feedback loop of criticism. They can post, send and read comments about their friends and themselves instantly —and obsessively.
In middle school
Check your own behavior. Are you overly critical of your own body? Do you exercise and eat well? You're setting an example of adult behavior.
Do a reality check. Help your children form realistic expectations. Point out that the sports celebrities they admire have teams of people helping them work out, feeding them special meals and, in some cases, surgically altering them.
If your son is on a sports team, check in with him about training. Find out what kind of messages he's getting from his coach and from other team members. Make sure his diet and exercise regimen are part of a larger goal of being healthy.
In high school
Check in. Ask your son whether his friends use risky methods to control their weight. Since boys will talk more easily about other people than themselves, you can get more information by asking about what friends do. Ask: Are any of your friends using steroids or supplements? Working out too much? Talking about "purging" after a pig out?
Check for signs. Sudden weight loss (or gain), dramatically increased workouts, large muscle growth, and radically altered eating patterns are just a few signs of eating disorders or potential steroid or supplement use. If you think your son is at risk, make a doctor's appointment immediately.
It's a long-held fact of life that adolescent and teenage girls are constant mirror-gazers, obsessed with such body-image details as looks and weight.
And now so are the boys.
But unlike girls, who want to get thin, most boys want to bulk up. According to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, more than 40 percent of boys in middle and high school say they regularly exercise with the goal of increasing muscle mass. Thirty-eight percent say they used protein supplements, and nearly 6 percent say they had experimented with steroids.
But Bo Chamberlain, who has taught seventh- and eighth-graders for the last 11 years, says it's not just toned muscles that has boys staring into the mirror; it's the way they look in general.
"Since middle-school age is typically when young people go through puberty, body image becomes important," says Chamberlain, who now teaches at Red Bank Middle School. "All of a sudden, the boys worry if they are attractive.
"Boys at Red Bank Middle spend time in the morning working on their hair, their clothes and even getting the scuffs off their shoes. Image becomes everything."
Like girls, boys are not only looking at the way their bodies are changing, but the way their friends are changing, too, he says.
"I think everyone becomes self-conscious about the way they look sooner or later. I certainly did. I think boys were just less likely to admit it."
Dr. Harrison Pope, a psychiatry professor at Harvard who studies bodybuilding culture, says the portrayal of men as fat-free and chiseled "is dramatically more prevalent in society than it was a generation ago."
"There has been a striking change in attitudes toward male body image in the last 30 years," he told The Associated Press.
A 2007 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that 0.9 percent of women suffer from anorexia during their lifetime, 1.5 percent have bulimia, and 3.5 percent have a binge-eating disorder. Among males, the numbers don't drop dramatically, with 0.3 percent suffering from anorexia, 0.5 percent from bulimia and 2 percent from binge eating.
Local licensed marriage and family therapist Roses Watson Taylor says she doesn't have any young male clients with body-image issues right now, but she has seen them in the past.
"Years ago, I worked with a young teen who, feeling powerless in his family's dynamics, pumped himself up (with weightlifting)," she says. "Years later, he completely let himself go to a surprisingly flabby state."
Some professionals blame the media for the new-found image obsession with boys.
Denny Marshall, president of Scenic City Multisport and a dedicated athlete, credits the media for influencing young men to seeking a perfect body image. And, in this case, the media includes movies, TV, sports, magazines, even video games.
Marshall, the father of a 10-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, says his son, an athlete, is starting to notice change in his developing muscles but is not yet interested in his own body image. But the father still has noticed that even TV ads are aiming their sights at younger boys.
"It's interesting that cosmetic companies have come out with male products," he says. "There's no way I would ever wear that stuff unless I'm going on TV."
Chamberlain says he, too, is worried about the image of perfect body, perfect hair, perfect teeth that boys see all around them.
"Increasingly unrealistic body image is being forced on the students and they begin to believe those unrealistic images are the norm not the exception," he says.
Many teens turn to websites to get advice on perfecting one's body image. Teenbodybuilding.com, for example, offers advice to teens on getting "big and ripped." There's information on the website about which supplements teens should take to aid in the muscle-building process, as well as a forum where teens discuss their workouts, their goals and share photos of themselves.
But local pediatrician Jane Jones says she hasn't seen body-image issues becoming a problem with her younger male patients.
"I see patients who are trying to gain weight when they're training for boxing, but as far as using steroids or working out to specifically increase muscle mass, I just don't see it," says Jones, whose practice is on Signal Mountain.
Stan Corcoran, head swim coach at McCallie School, says only one of his swimmers shows concerns about body image. Some of the swimmers do, however, drink Muscle Milk after every practice. According to musclemilk.com, the drink is a lactose free, protein-enhanced formula that promotes increased strength, lean-muscle growth and fast recovery from exercise.
But Corcoran says it's less about looking good than getting the muscles to recover from strenuous exercise.
"Two years ago, we got some good literature about drinking and eating within 30 minutes of finishing a practice to recover needed nutrition," the coach explains. "A protein-and-carbohydrate mix is great for recovery after practice."
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...