Written by Brett Delaney, Middle School Health Teacher, Coach and Dove Self-Esteem Project Cadre Trainer with Cairn Guidance, a Dove Self-Esteem Partner
I am a father to three young girls. I coach softball and teach middle school students. Self-esteem, body image, and body confidence are topics addressed on a daily basis with all the women and girls in my life. What I have noticed in any conversation about self-esteem everyone, including my students, related it back to women and girls. As I mentioned, I teach middle school students and yes, I do see girls struggle with issues regarding self-esteem and body confidence - but I see boys struggle with this issue just as much. I knew I needed to set out and find a way to help my students realize that self-esteem and confidence are important for everyone.
So, what is one reason I got involved as a Dove Self-Esteem cadre member? The weight room! In a 2013 Psychology Today article, Drexler (1) cites statistics relative to my classroom experiences. First, 40 percent of boys in middle and high school exercise regularly. Second, boys overwhelmingly reported feeling pressured to fit a certain physical ideal of lean, muscular, and broad in the shoulders. The weight room can be a very daunting place for anyone of any physical ability. It can be even more daunting for an 8th grade boy (in a class of 8th and 9th grade peers) who has not gone through the growing process yet, as some of his peers have. I’ve seen one of my student go through this. He came into strength class at a level he wasn’t satisfied with. He got really frustrated with his numbers and the appearance that he was “weak” compared to his peers. He would not engage in group activities/ interact with peers, would be last to show up for class and the first to leave, his head dropped and shoulders rounded. He also was not a member of any extracurricular activities. It was easy to see how comparing himself to others shaped his self-perception and ultimately held him back.
Students in today’s society are influenced by so many internal and external factors. These external factors, out of the control of the teenager, have influenced this opinion of self. With a lot of these factors coming from different social media outlets where they can only post a picture or 140 characters, my students choose not to talk about their feelings and beliefs of themselves but rather post their negative thoughts. My student from the weight room, I found, was posting things about his perceived strength level on social media. Just one of many ways I have noticed middle school boys being critical of themselves.
When teaching my unit on body confidence/body image, the biggest hurdle I have to overcome is self-talk. Typically, teenagers are wired to think they are the only ones dealing with a given situation. What they do not always realize is the person sitting next to them or two rows back is dealing with the same situation. We start every year in health class with our social-emotional unit not because it is easy (it’s actually the most challenging), but because it sets the tone for the students to begin getting to know themselves and others, so the rest of the year they can find various ways to relate the content back to helping them grow as young men and women. The Dove Self-Esteem Project Confident Me! lessons helped with this problem of negative self-talk. The discussion prompts led to great conversations about self-esteem and appearance ideals that were happening at my school. Students were challenged with this curriculum to begin looking at themselves and stop comparing to others.
Boys are going to continue to be pressured by different outlets which lead to comparison about self and possible negative self-talk characteristics becoming more evident. From the Dove Self-Esteem Confident Me! lessons done in class, the discussion that ensued about negative self-talk and realizing times it happens clicked in my weight room student’s head. He came to me after a lifting session and said he could tell he was having negative self-talk but was starting to use strategies his peers gave him from health class to help overcome those negative thoughts. This was something done by the students themselves and not me! How powerful is that! That is why I do what I do and help promote this great free curriculum anyway I can.
Oh, the weight room student… When he left as a 9th grader, he was standing tall, looking teachers and students in the eyes when communicating with them, and engaging in class and extra-curricular activities. I don’t see this student as much now because he is in another building, but when I do, we talk about the positive things going on in his life. I always try and tell him and other students that I am proud of them and ask them one question: What is going well in your life today?
Brett Delaney is a middle school health and physical education teacher in Iowa. He is also a member of the Dove Self-Esteem cadre trainers who seek to increase awareness and encourage educators to implement the no-cost Dove Self-Esteem Project’s single or five-lesson Confident Me! curriculum. For more information about the Dove Self-Esteem Project’s Confident Me! lessons, please visit the following link: Dove Self-Esteem Project.
1. Drexler, PhD, Peggy. January 17, 2013. The Impact of Negative Body Image on Boys. Psychology Today, Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/our-gender-ourselves/201301/the-impact-negative-body-image-boys