By Rod Moser, PA, PhD
Life can be very difficult for teen boys, but it seems that few parents notice their struggles. Girls, on the other hand are often called Drama Mamas. They will actively voice their concerns and frustrations, while boys tend to silently hold in their deepest feelings or strike out in aggressive ways.
In our Adolescent Clinic, I tend to mostly see guys. My wife sees the gals. Giving teens the choice of a same-sex provider is really important. I just saw Jerry (not his really name), age 12. He needed clearance for playing football, but was adamantly refusing to have an exam. I had to look him in those stubborn eyes and simply said,
“No exam. No football. End of discussion. You have a minute to decide or I am going to go see other patients.”
As is often the case, it was the genital exam that is most feared by boys. While quick, easy, and painless, the male genital exam is absolutely essential to check for abnormalities and to instruct them on self-examination for testicular cancer. While cancer is rare, I do find testicular abnormalities and inguinal hernias quite often. Although I examined this young man a dozen times since he was two, the onset of puberty has coincided with embarrassment now. He was self-conscious about the size of his penis (which was absolutely normal, incidentally). Once I reassured him that he was normal for his early stage of puberty, he seemed to relax. He had tears in his eyes. Big boys do cry.
Not only are boys emotional, they are also highly critical about their bodies. Because young men reach puberty at different ages, it is not unusual to have some teen boys that look like third-graders in the same classroom with same-age, burly guys who look like Sasquatch. Boys are embarrassed over their belly fat, acne, “man boobs”, lack of body hair, genital size/appearance, birthmarks, moles, etc. I hate to say this, but boys often complain about body image issues more than girls.
Boys are risk-takers and can get themselves into some dangerous situations. They are not shy about trying just about anything, from skipping school to dabbling in illegal substances. Teens are not afraid of teachers anymore. They will talk-back and be disrespectful if challenged. They will not hand in homework assignments even under the watchful eyes of involved parents.
Boys turn their rooms into hermit caves. They often become secretive and uncommunicative; shutting out the rest of the family. Parents cannot let this happen. While some privacy and alone-time is important, parents need to be intimately involved in all aspects of their lives. They need to know their friends (not just their names). Encourage and promote honest communication and trust but parents should always “verify”. For example, if a boy is spending the night with friends, make sure the parents are home and supervising their behavior.
The great thing about adolescence is that it is temporary – they will quickly grow out of it. Keep them safe. Keep them physically and emotionally healthy. Keep them in your hearts, even when they are difficult to love.