When Mike was 13 years old, he became fascinated with the weight room at his school in upstate New York and began working out there regularly. He noted that it helped him feel “good.”
It also made clear what he saw as his physical deficiencies.
“I hated the fact that I was so skinny and wanted to improve myself,” Mike (not his real name), now 14, tells Yahoo Life. Eventually, he joined a gym with several friends and primarily used YouTube to find effective ways to build muscle.
Mike “built benches and all sorts of machines and found out online.” However, there’s a seemingly endless loop of dedicated weightlifting influencers on the internet sharing their hardcore workouts. “I like how much willpower and determination it takes to keep training day after day. It really helped my discipline,” he says.
His story is not uncommon among teenagers across the country – nearly a third of them (29.2%) are trying to bulk up. According to a recent study. And it resonated with parents who spoke to Yahoo Life about their own sons.
“He decided he was too skinny and too scrawny and needed to build more muscle,” says a New York City mother of her 14-year-old, who “made the transition at age 13 instead of coming home and just wanting to play videos.” Games to going to a local gym with his friends – which is great because I would much rather have him do that than sit at home.”
But she soon became worried, especially when several mothers noticed that their sons were sending each other shirtless selfies to compare their muscles, constantly watching bodybuilders on TikTok, and wanting money to buy merch and protein powder from influencers. “There have been a few times where he has overexerted himself and come home in a lot of pain or injury,” she adds, “and I worry that he isn’t following the routines that are essential for teenagers. “
Her son, now on the soccer team, “definitely still thinks he’s too skinny and too wiry.” He eats healthy, which she sees as an advantage. “But do I want my 14-year-old to be obsessed with it?” she asks. “No, I want him to be a kid who doesn’t constantly think about what his body is like.”
That may be a tall order: Experts have noted an increase in such behaviors among adolescent boys, which in extreme cases can lead to a distorted body image — in such cases known as muscle dysmorphia, a subset of the mental health diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder.
Colloquially referred to by some as “Bigorexia“There is ongoing debate about whether muscle dysmorphia should be considered an eating disorder, a behavioral addiction, or a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, it occurs when a person is “obsessed with becoming muscular,” he explains Dr. Jason Nagata, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, where he is an expert in male eating disorders. “They may see themselves as puny even if they are objectively muscular” and “may use anabolic steroids or other drugs that enhance appearance and performance to become more muscular.”
Eating disorders are common – 22% of adolescent males take supplements, use steroids, or eat more or differently to bulk up, Nagata says Found in 2019. And these actions, he notes, “are not what people typically think of as eating disorder behaviors” and are widely recognized in girls, particularly in the context of attempts to eat less and lose weight. For this reason, boys with eating disorders and/or muscle dysmorphia – often with the goal of gaining weight – are overlooked or even viewed as people who are engaging in healthy behavior.
“In moderation, physical activity and exercise have many health benefits, and in general, boys and men should exercise – as long as it is fun and sustainable,” says Nagata. “But I think that with eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia, taking exercise to the extreme can cause more worry than joy.”
Muscle dysmorphia is often exacerbated by the pressures of social media.
“More Instagram usage among boys or men leads to skipping meals, steroid use and muscle dissatisfaction,” says Nagata. “Back in the day, even if you watched a movie or TV show with a muscular man, you were kind of living in a read-only environment – you were consuming it, which has some impact, but the average guy would never expect that.” presented [anywhere]So there was no pressure on them to perform,” he tells Yahoo Life. “But now there’s more pressure… on you to show off your own body.”
In its worst cases, muscle dysmorphia can lead to suicidal thoughts and planning, it has been found a study published just last week. In these cases, a young person’s “appearance intolerance” was so extreme, study author Kyle Ganson, a professor of social work at the University of Toronto and at young researchertells Yahoo Life that contemplating suicide was “the only way to stop thinking negatively about your body.”
Here, experts discuss the differences between healthy exercise and dangerous obsession.
Isn’t training good for teenage boys?
That may well be the case, says Brett Klika, youth fitness expert, former Olympic coach and co-founder/CEO of Spiderfit Kids. “It’s an incredibly positive thing for them, both from a mentally and physical health to engage in any form of exercise,” he tells Yahoo Life. But as with any type of training, there are safety guidelines, he warns.
“The most important thing for teenagers or anyone embarking on something new is to get experienced, recognized and professional guidance,” says Klika. “Because in this information age, they can go on the Internet and a supplement company will sell them a strength training program,” or a bodybuilding influencer will share their routine while they “have no idea how old the kid is” watching.
As for the concern that a preteen might stunt their growth by lifting weights, Klika calls it an “urban legend” and emphasizes that strength training, when done correctly, is an excellent form of exercise for both tweens and teens for teenagers – something that has been supported for many years from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“If your child wants to start strength training,” says Klika, “that’s an incredibly positive thing considering what else they can do.”
When should parents worry?
“Overall, it’s a red flag to me when exercise or eating becomes a concern that causes them to withdraw from their usual activities or friends because of concerns about their appearance,” says Nagata.
Klika adds that she looks for “drastic behavioral changes” when it comes to socializing and eating. “It’s one thing for them to say, ‘I don’t want fried chicken, I want it grilled,’ which is positive.” But if they’re weighing foods and don’t want to go to Thanksgiving dinner and it disrupts their lifestyle, then it will a problem,” he says. “Suddenly the child is a different child – and not necessarily for the better.”
Both experts warn that using legal muscle-building supplements can be a gateway to anabolic steroid use (with an increase of up to, a recent Nagata study found). 3.18 times So much). And “by the time your child is in high school,” Klika warns, steroids — which can lead to heart disease, kidney problems and liver damage — are “available.”
Sometimes the clearest indication of problems lies in the way teenagers talk about themselves—for example, focusing on a need for willpower or a desire to “better” themselves, he says Michael ReichertPsychologist and author of How to Raise a Boy. “It can definitely easily turn into harsh personal criticism that is not based on any concept of self-care or self-love,” he tells Yahoo Life.
When an adolescent boy is “malicious and chronically dissatisfied” with himself, it can lead to “compulsive urges to exercise, eat carefully, and lift weights,” he explains. And this not only gets the endorphins going, but also triggers “a feeling of progress when you look in the mirror.” But this way of generating self-acceptance and positive self-esteem is problematic,” explains Reichert, “because it depends entirely on the imaginary outside view.” … It is not really a replacement for accepting and being with ourselves agree with ourselves.”
How to help your teenager
Nagata advises any concerned parent to take the first step of “talking openly with your child about the behaviors that are troubling you,” and seeking additional professional help if there are significant concerns. Raising concerns with a primary care doctor or pediatrician could lead to helpful recommendations to a therapist, eating disorder specialist or nutritionist, he says.
Klika recommends that parents take part in guiding their children’s training and pay attention to this International Youth Conditioning Association or his own Spiderfit Kids for free resources or experts like Mark Rippetoe And Mike Boyle. “You won’t see muscles bulging out of his head, and [your kid] “Maybe I’m not going to be thrilled, but…honestly,” he says, “most of the people who post good stuff for beginners aren’t the people who have been driven out of their minds.”
With that in mind, it’s important to talk to your teen about how to consume media critically—pointing out realities, from the heavy filtering of their images by some fitness influencers to the fact that toy action figures do this become more muscular over the years, Much to the delight of the fans.
“It’s about media literacy – teaching young people, especially boys, how to talk about their bodies, their relationship to it, their relationship to food, and being aware of the impact and pressures of social media,” says Ganson, who has a caveat recommends social media use as much as possible.
Finally, Reichert advises parents to lay a strong foundation of support, openness and commitment – one in which boys “invest in a relationship where they feel safe and cared for and want to be honest and open with themselves,” he says .
“It’s never too late to start,” he emphasizes. “Even though some pretty thick walls have been put up, the fact is that the boy longs to be connected to someone who knows him and cares about him, and the first person he turns to after that is his Parents.”