My teenage son wants to try a fitness/diet routine he found online. What should I do?

The pursuit of a perfect body is no longer just a "girl" thing. Boys also are falling prey to the images of ideal bodies splashed across magazine covers, in video games, in movies, in music videos, and now on social media. Unlike their female counterparts, however, most boys aren't out to get skinny -- they want to bulk up. And some are going to extreme efforts to get a muscular, chiseled physique.

Messages in the media about feeling and looking powerful have a huge influence on boys. According to a study by the gender-equity nonprofit Promundo, young men' sense of attractiveness is primarily tied to muscle bulk and body shape, as opposed to inward qualities such as confidence. Over the past 30 years, the ideal male physique has gained muscle and lost body fat. Now, online forums and blogs make it easy to seek and share information about diet and fitness that's not always healthy. So, how do we help our boys pursue health and fitness safely -- and to derive their sense of self worth from who they are, vs. what they look like?

Check in. Ask your son whether his friends use risky methods to control their weights. Since boys will talk more easily about other people than themselves, you can get more information by asking about what his friends do. Ask: Are any of your friends using steroids or supplements? Working out too much? Talking about "purging" after a pig-out? If so, ask your son how he feels about it and whether he's ever been tempted to engage in any of this behavior.

Check for signs. Sudden weight loss (or gain), dramatically increased workouts, large muscle growth, and radically altered eating patterns are only 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. This is critical not only for your son's health but also for his mental well-being, since eating disorders create a lot of feelings of shame. Sometimes your child might be more forthcoming with a health professional than with you, for fear either of letting you down or of being criticized.

Focus on health, not looks. De-emphasize the value of physical attractiveness and focus instead on how important it is to have a healthy lifestyle and friends who support you for who you are.

Talk to a doctor before starting a new fitness/diet routine. Your son's pediatrician will help him understand the risks of following any nutrition plan found online, as well as what is an appropriate diet and fitness routine for your son's age.

Ask Our Experts
Was this answer helpful?
Sign in or sign up to share your thoughts

Comments

Kid, 11 years old

I think it's ok for your son to work out more, or not eat junk food. Make sure he still gets the nutrients he needs, and make sure he is still eating the right amount of food. Go ahead and tell him that there's a difference between being on a diet and not eating. Maybe give him a short lesson about the nutrients his body needs so he doesn't get caught up in anything.
Kid, 10 years old

Check with his Doctor before anything, I would say after that to get as much info on the routine as possible,then if it seems safe to let him do it.
Teen, 14 years old written by eric.fernandes.01

From my personal experience boys typically are not looking for that "skeleton" look. Most guys just want to get ripped. So most of the diets/workouts guys find are designed to promote muscle mass. Because of this guys will typically not try to starve themselves or binge. You should check out what they want to try out and if it is healthy embrace it. The internet can be a great resource for health and fitness related topics and can help your son become more confident and healthy. Also if your son participates in sports getting bigger can help them.
Kid, 10 years old

it's fine your child wants to exercise that's fine but do check what he will eat that's kinda' important
Adult written by JeshikaJ

First and foremost, show that you are interested. Do not criticize his intentions for heath and well being. Find out what the diet and exercise routine is that he wishes to begin. Query his intentions in a friendly, not too confronting way - what his ultimate goal is and why. He is at the stage where he wants to improve his body image, most teenagers go through this, your goal is to ensure it is in a healthy way, and ensure he has a healthy mindset when he starts it. If you do not like the method, once you have found out his ultimate goal, offer better ones or improve it, do some research yourself, learn more about health and exercise. If necessary bring in an expert (this could be someone you know or a teacher or a fitness coach/sporting coach of some kind), however ensure you agree with their methods too before allowing the communication between them to take place. You can assist your son on his fitness and health quest, without seeming like you're taking over and he will appreciate that. This is just my opinion. :)