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Spornosexuality, Body Image and Boys

Parents can use news stories and social trends as teaching moments

We’ve spent all kinds of energy worrying about girls and body image.  Trends like ‘spornosexuals’ in the media (athletes and other celebrities with their shirts off showing off their abs) remind us not to neglect boys that I wrote about in a previous post (The Spornosexual: Should Beckham Keep His Shirt On?).  There are always unrealistic pressures on children as they grow up. Not everyone can be 6’2” and have six-pack abs.  Parents, teachers and caretakers can help kids focus on strengths and not lament genetics and fashion trends, but that's no easy task.

News stories about any kind of trend make great teaching moments for boys and girls—particularly those who are tweens and teens who are in the process of figuring out who they are.  The spornosexual article by Mark Simpson offers us several different potential topics: selfies, celebrity behavior, body image, gender roles and differences (not body parts, but how people respond to men and women doing the same thing), Instagram and privacy, to just name a few.

Start a conversation.  When we're worried about something having to do with our kids, we often lose the art of conversation.  Good intentions quickly morph into a lecture.  As a reminder, a conversation is a form of communication where both sides talk and both sides listen.  If parents start with their conclusions about how awful something is, the conversation just became a lecture and your tween or teen is no longer listening.  If you try and it's not going well, try it again while doing something together, such as shooting hoops, playing pool or catch, cooking, gardening, etc.  It is relaxing and consuming, which lessens knee jerk defensive reactions for both of you.  

  • In the case of spornosexual photos like David Beckham shirtless, find out how kids feel about these kinds of pictures and the people in the pictures.  See if you can find out if they admire them and what makes a person—famous or otherwise-- ‘valuable’ and interesting to others. Note: Let the child/teen talk first and be sure to listen for what they have to say and the subtext that can tell you what they worry about.  
  • Share your opinions and worries but leave room for kids to explain how your perspective might not be accurate in their world.  If they disagree with you, try saying "help me understand why..."
  • Talk about what matters to you inside a person and also what matters to them. 
  • Ask if whether or not how someone looks on the outside shows if they are a good person, is really happy or is making the world a better place. If not, what does?  
  • Discuss how much we ‘assume’ about the lives of people we don’t even know and then use our beliefs and assumptions to compare.  A good example is assuming our friends on Facebook have it better than we do or are having more fun than we are.  Our beliefs create a reality that we use as a measuring stick for our own lives.

Photo credits: Photl.com; Beckham: People.com by Stefano Rellandini /Reuters/Landov

Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., M.B.A., is Director of the Media Psychology Research Center and teaches media psychology at Fielding Graduate University and UCLA Extension. more...

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