“Teen bodybuilding scare” is misleading and wrong

The New York Times article “Muscular body image lures boys into gym, and obsession” is uninformed and is likely to send mixed messages to parents and children.

This first problem that caught my attention in this article is the statistics that it cites.

“…more than 40 percent of boys in middle school and high school said they regularly exercised with the goal of increasing muscle mass. Thirty-eight percent said they used protein supplements, and nearly 6 percent said they had experimented with steroids… 90 percent of the 1,307 boys in the survey… said they exercised at least occasionally to add muscle.”

Obviously it would be better if the steroid use statistic were zero, but what the hell is up with these other statistics? Are we now telling our children that it’s BAD to exercise? Is it supposed to be “scary” that 90 percent of boys “exercise occasionally to build muscle”? What the hell is wrong with these people?

We live in a society constantly complaining about obesity and bad health, and now the media is crying that boys want to “occasionally” work out to increase muscle mass? What message are you sending by citing this statistic in an article primarily about the dangers of steroid use? Are you saying: “Boys, you shouldn’t want to work out to look good because its better for you to have diabetes than self-esteem issues?”

Parents, if you are worried that your teen boy might have self esteem issues because of unrealistic body image goals, the answer isn’t to tell him to not work out. The answer is not to demonize bodybuilding. The answer is to do some goddamn parenting and have a conversation with your kid about having realistic goals.

Cristiano RonaldoThe second thing that jumped out at me about this article was this: one of the role-models the article was wringing its hands over (metaphorically) was Cristiano Ronaldo. The successful athlete, Christiano Ronaldo. When did it become bad for teens to have role-models? You don’t tell your boy not to practice singing because he may never be a rock star, and you shouldn’t discourage him from working out just because he may never be Christiano Ronaldo.

Besides, Christiano is muscular, but he’s not bodybuilder-muscular. If I were a parent I think I’d be more concerned about my 14 year old wanting to look like John Cena than Christiano.

To be fair, much of this article talks about the dangers of steroids, and I agree that steroids are a problem. But if the 5-6 percent of high school students that have experimented with steroids is the issue, they need to focus on THAT ISSUE. They should not be using scare-tactic statistics like “90% of teens occasionally work out to increase muscle mass!!!!” That statistic should be seen as a good thing. Kids getting into caring about their bodies, and being empowered to exercise some control over how they look, is a very good thing. The problem isn’t the bodybuilding, the problem is the steroids.

Finally, I know some people will say that even natural bodybuilding is bad for a teen because it can lead to self-esteem issues. After all, there are certain body types that some people simply cannot achieve.

I remember being a teen, and not to be glib, but pretty much anything and everything under the sun “can” lead to self-esteem issues in a teenager. This is where good parenting comes in. Instead of preventing your child from working out, or thinking of bodybuilding as somehow negative or scary, be a good parent and make sure your child is around positive influences. Make sure he is around people who will encourage him to train hard and improve his body, but to also have age-appropriate goals. Teach him that there is more to being a good athlete and a good person than how strong you are.

But for heaven’s sake, don’t demonize young people working out. Done correctly, it’s healthy, it’s empowering, and it’s a way for boys to improve their self-esteem. When articles like this one toss around inflated statistics about the number of teens who have “tried protein supplements” and lump that together with a conversation about steroid use, it sends absolutely the wrong message.

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