In 2015, the ABC’s news program, Behind the News (BTN) conducted the biggest survey of children’s mental health in history. It was called the Happiness Survey and 20,000 kids responded. The survey was designed to find out the kinds of things that affect children – what makes them happy, and what makes them sad or worried. The results from the 2017 Happiness Survey are in and once again it offers some surprising insights into what makes kids tick.
This time 47,000 Australian children, aged between six and 18, responded to questions on issues such as being different, bullying, arguments, family, friendships, schoolwork, world problems, body image, their future and health.
Some of the top-line findings include:
- Just over half (53 percent) of kids worry about bullying.
- Over half (61 percent) of kids worry about their body.
- Nearly three quarters (73 percent) of kids worry about the future.
For secondary school-aged boys, concern over ‘your body’ rose quickly from the age 14, with boys aged 16 and 17 as likely to worry about this as girls of the same age. Interestingly, boys aged 18 were more likely than girls their age to worry about their bodies, with 73 percent of boys saying this worried them either sometimes or lots of the time, compared to 67 percent of girls.
Of concern for the researchers, is that 26 percent of children said they wouldn’t speak to anyone about their worries.
Here are some practical tips for parents and educators when addressing boys and body image:
- Focus on doing things that make your son feel good as a buffer during times when he might not be feeling happy.
- Get the recommended amount of sleep. Sleep is an important indicator for children’s wellbeing and happiness. Children who get the recommended amount of sleep are twice as likely to be happy.
- Look after yourself. If you take your health seriously, your son will too. Educate him about good food choices and the benefits of exercise. By fostering a healthy lifestyle, you're helping your son resist extreme dieting messages.
- Look at what he’s watching/exposed to. Advertising, videos, movies, and magazines promote stereotypes and outdated gender roles. Seek out unconventional role models and talk about their different body types, explaining why you respect them so much or find them beautiful.
- Conduct a training reality check. Many boys think that by mimicking admired sports people or celebrities, they will have the same body/outcome. However, in reality, celebrities have teams of people helping them to work out, feeding them special meals, photo-shopping images and, in some cases, surgically altering them. Encourage your son to look around him at the men in his life for a reality check.
- Keep an eye on your son’s social networks. Online, boys can feed their obsession in isolation. Bodybuilding and fitness forums can promote risky training, dangerous supplementing and unattainable body ideals that boys may pursue without checking with you, a doctor or coach. Also, boys can expose themselves to constant criticism by posting photos of themselves to social networks.
- Talk about ‘real’ girls. Highly sexualised media can distort boys' understanding of girls, relationships, and what the opposite sex looks like. Talk about how media represents an extreme perspective that's not realistic and is often surgically enhanced.
As parents, we have an instinctive understanding of our children. If you feel that something is not quite right with your son, but he won’t open up, trust your instincts. Enlist the help of an outsider such as a trusted teacher, school counsellor or family doctor. If however, body issues are significant in terms of their impact on your son’s functioning, or they represent a significant change for your son, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.
Our mission at Trinity Grammar School is to provide a thoroughly Christian education for boys from Pre-Kindergarten to Year 12, imparting knowledge and understanding of the world we live in, and recognising the importance of spiritual qualities in every sphere of learning.
We are committed to the health and wellbeing of every student. Trinity’s Pastoral Care guidelines focus on the fundamentals of good parenting — providing both care and discipline — enabling boys to grow into self-confident, trustworthy and resilient young men. Combined with an ongoing partnership between the School and home, your son will thrive in a consistent, caring and nurturing environment.
To learn more about the Trinity difference, and why we are one of Sydney’s leading schools for boys, download our Prospectus.