Q: Our teen son seems obsessed with how he looks. He doesn't just try to Photoshop his selfies; he's actually almost panicked about his physique. Is that normal?
Jim: Most of us know that body image is a serious issue for teen girls. But many parents don't realize that more and more teen boys are susceptible to body image struggles, too. Having raised two sons myself, I can tell you it's a big deal.
Studies are tracing this growing problem to a cultural shift in recent decades that has redefined the ideal male body image. Professional athletes are bigger and stronger than they've ever been. Hollywood once portrayed superheroes as average guys in spandex. Now they're played by bodybuilders -- or even entirely computer generated. Today's teen boys are also under the spell of social media (read: Photoshopped selfies) and a marketing machine fueling the multibillion-dollar fitness industry.
The problem isn't that teen boys are aspiring to a level of physical fitness that's currently beyond them. An improvement in diet and exercise can be a great decision. But, as with girls, problems can arise when boys commit too much of their time, resources and emotional well-being to chasing results that may be unattainable.
If your son wants to hit the weights, don't discourage him entirely. Just know that body image problems aren't limited to girls. Watch for signs of an extreme diet, radical weight loss or excessive fatigue from too much time in the gym.
Most of all, help your son set reasonable boundaries that will influence him to find a good balance between his health and his body image.
Q: I've been dating a man from a different country. We're considering getting married; are there any special challenges we might face trying to build a successful marriage as an intercultural couple?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Whenever a man and a woman pledge themselves to one another for life, it should be a cause for celebration. That said, it's important to acknowledge and understand how contrasting customs and cultural backgrounds may impact your marriage and family life. The way you're brought up is the way you'll live unless you make a conscious choice to embrace another option.
Nationalistic, ethnic or social pride can drive a wedge between otherwise loving spouses. One partner may feel superior because he or she grew up in a "higher" socio-economic class. A spouse may feel "owed something" for having legalized the other's citizenship through matrimony. Pride also raises its head when one spouse believes the other's culture or beliefs are inferior.
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As in any marriage, communication can be one of the biggest difficulties -- including the challenge of speaking different languages. Linguistic differences you normally enjoy can become an issue when misunderstandings occur or when the "foreign" language is spoken at family gatherings. Communication also affects the way a couple solves problems. Attitudes toward gender roles can play havoc with the relationship unless husbands and wives can turn conflicts into opportunities for learning and growth.
Another potential challenge is isolation. Broken family ties and friendships can haunt couples for the rest of their lives. This aspect of the situation needs to be weighed very carefully.
Here are five practical steps to handle racial and cultural differences in your marriage:
Educate yourself and your family about the other culture.
Challenge false beliefs.
Discuss the positives and negatives of your two cultures, and choose together which parts will best fit in your relationship.
Adjust and adapt to one another's cultures through compromise and communication.
Be patient and love unconditionally.
If you need help putting these concepts into practice, don't hesitate to give our counselors a call at 1-855-771-HELP (4357).