Q: I'm curious -- what would you say is the mark of true masculinity?
Jim: Every man needs to feel like a hero. We're built to be warriors. The trouble is most guys don't feel like they get a chance to use their strength on behalf of their family very often. I mean, how many guys march in from the front yard on a Saturday with their chest puffed out, saying, "I mowed the lawn!" That just doesn't quite hit it.
Maybe that's why so many young men believe they have to prove their manhood through brute strength -- how much weight they can lift or how hard they can punch. That might be what sets the heroes apart in the movies. But in everyday life, inner strength is far more important to true masculinity than outer strength.
A real man lays his life down for his family every single day. Like when a dad plays catch in the front yard even though he's tired from a long day at work. Or when he talks his daughter through her first heartbreak -- even though he'd rather she not grow up at all. Sometimes it's as simple as a husband skipping the ballgame on TV to run an errand to the store for his wife.
Those things may not sound very heroic. But that's because guys usually think masculinity is found in the big things. The truth is it's mostly found in the inner strength that enables a man to serve his wife and kids in the small ways every day.
Q: Our teenaged daughter has a poor body image and a negative view of herself, but she won't talk about it. How do we bring this up without smothering her or alienating her?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: Sadly, some of the biggest lies we believe come through the mirror. Many teens you (or your daughter) wouldn't suspect have problems with a negative body image. The deeper issue she's wrestling with is the belief that acceptance and love are based on her appearance. That's a widespread lie presented via social media, advertisements and "filmed perfection."
Teens generally don't respond to forced discussions about emotional or personal issues. Rather than pushing her to share her feelings, the best approach is to consistently and intentionally spend one-on-one time together -- taking walks, eating out, etc.
Your daughter needs to feel safe to share her thoughts and feelings with you -- and this takes time. At some unexpected moment she may spontaneously begin talking about her worries. Roll with it, listen and be ready to clarify: "Help me understand..." Reflect back what she's saying and affirm her concerns: "What I'm hearing you say is ____, is that right?" The more understood she feels, the greater her trust and openness.
If you're genuine and sensitive, there's a good chance she will gradually open up. As she does, resist the urge to fix things. This is a personal journey of finding the truth. I've asked both my teens: "Who gets a vote in saying who you are and why?"
Note that dads play an especially important role; every girl longs to feel loved and cherished by her father. Genuine, consistent, affirming words from Dad go a long way toward reinforcing truth in a young woman. But he should compliment her on her character and unique attributes rather than simply on her looks or achievements. (I love writing encouraging notes to my 14-year-old daughter.)
If you're concerned that your daughter may be at risk for anorexia or bulimia, I encourage you to seek professional help immediately. Our staff counselors can refer you to a qualified therapist in your area; call 1-855-771-HELP (4357).