Teenage boys and the health issues they avoid talking about

Communication is key

  • Talking to adolescent boys about their health concerns involves gaining the knowledge and communication skills to address their concerns in a manner that they can relate to.
  • Healthcare professionals’ success with teenage boys, will depend on their ability to initiate conversations about a wide range of topics.
  • Although adolescent boys have as many health issues and concerns as adolescent girls, they are much less likely to discuss these issues with a healthcare professional.
  • The young teen needs to know that the healthcare professional is interested and available to talk to about sensitive topics such as sexual health; sexuality; nutrition and exercise patterns; contraception and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Parents of pre-adolescent and adolescent boys should arrange regular health visits for their sons, beginning in their early teen years.

Violence and illegal activity

Adolescents who have been physically or mentally abused at home and have been bullied at school may be more susceptible to get into fights or to be violent. The average age of male youth involvement in crime is 16 years. Poor school performance is one of the most important predictors of criminal behaviour.

Substance use and abuse

Use of alcohol and marijuana is very prevalent among adolescents. Males are much more likely than females to binge drink (five or more drinks at one time) and also drive a vehicle while intoxicated. Adolescents who initiate alcohol or substance use at an early age, may be involved in multiple health risk behaviours.

Reproductive health issues and sexual orientation

Many adolescent males are sexually active before 18 years of age. Those who engage in multiple risk behaviours are more likely to have unprotected sexual intercourse, increasing the rate of pregnancy and STIs. Despite public health efforts to educate teens about prevention of STIs, condoms are not used consistently.

Heterosexual orientation should not be presumed in young men, and questions about dating and sexual attraction should be sex neutral. Having had sexual activity with someone of the same sex does not mean the teen is gay.

Mental health

  • Mood and anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent mental health conditions affecting young boys.
  • A decrease in school performance, increasing conflict with parents and authority, loss of interest in activities or frequent disruptions in sleeping patterns could be symptoms of depression.
  • Boys may be reluctant to seek care for emotional problems, fearing that this may be perceived as a weakness. It is important for the healthcare professional to bring up these topics with young men.
  • Depression and suicidal tendencies are increasing in frequency among adolescent boys. It is important to recognise agitation and aggression as possible symptoms.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

  • Teenage boys are more likely to have Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than girls.
  • Untreated ADHD and school failure may have associated comorbidities such as school absenteeism; substance abuse; and family and peer conflict.
  • Driving cars or motorcycles is problematic, with increased associated accidents and traffic violations.
  • A comprehensive approach to treatment, including dealing with educational needs, medication and any comorbid conditions, is important.

Eating disorders

  • Disturbances of body image and diet are less prevalent in boys than girls, but it is more common than generally believed.
  • Symptoms of eating disorders in boys may include over-exercise, intense bodybuilding, the use of anabolic steroids, and preoccupation with body shape and musculature.
  • Weight loss or gain may occur.
  • The symptoms can go undetected for long periods of time because they may not be alarming to parents, teachers or coaches.
  • Psychiatric comorbidity is common, particularly depression, low self-esteem and substance abuse.
  • Although not classified as an eating disorder, obesity rates are rising in adolescent males. This may be related to increased sedentary activities (television, video games, computers and Internet use); fewer aerobic activities; and increased portions in meals.


Caxton Central

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