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Teasing in Puberty
Q: My 13-year-old son, who is in the 7th grade, suffers from gynecomastia. When I say suffers, I mean just that. He has had to endure a lot of horrible teasing. Today at school was the worst. The coach had the kids playing touch football and he made half of the kids take off their shirts. Well my son, had to take off his shirt, which resulted in a lot of teasing for him. Of course, the coach was nowhere around. The teasing even went so far that some of the children were trying to touch his chest. He came home from school angry and crying. Now he says he doesn't want to ever go back to that school again. I also forgot to mention that he is a little overweight. He stands about 5'4" inches and weighs about 150 pounds. Any suggestions of help would be appreciated.
A: Your son is indeed suffering. I can remember being a 13 year-old boy in gym class and the unmerciful teasing of any boy whose body didn't look "normal": very skinny boys, fat boys, boys with underdeveloped or overdeveloped genitals and yes, I saw boys teased with gynecomastia. They were teased about "their breasts" (actually more unkind terms were used), being girls and I recall them being pinched on their chests. There couldn't be a worse stage to be a young man with this condition so you and your family have your work cut out for you.
School-wise, you should have a private meeting with the school's guidance counselor to let him know what happened so he may privately and discreetly let all your son's teachers and coaches (this should NEVER happen again in gym or any sports activity once the athletic staff is notified!) know how they should handle this emotional issue.
I am sure doctors may have suggested a healthy exercise and eating (NOT DIETING!!!) program can reduce your son's overall body fat and lessen the breast-like appearance of his chest. He could also gain self-esteem and fitness by learning and living a new lifestyle as it relates to food and his body.
He needs to feel good about the things he does do well and enjoys so make sure you offer him encouraging words often about any accomplishments or progress he is making in ANY area of his life. This may seem impossible to ask of him, but if he could learn some quick, comic comebacks that included the fact this is a condition he can't eliminate by just loosing weight, it could help him through the uneasy times he is teased. Also, sometimes responding to teasing by simply saying something like," You know, if making me feel terrible about myself makes you feel better, take your best shot- Maybe you'll feel terrific!" can stop a bully or teaser in their tracks because then they know they can' get a big rise out of you.
Good luck. I know your help and support along with some consciousness-raising on the part of others (and perhaps that exercise and eating program) will go a long way towards minimizing the hurt he feels.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.