How can we help our teenagers to take charge of their bodies?

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How can we help our teenagers to take charge of their bodies?


Adolescence marks the entry into another world, an upheaval for the teenager who, before our eyes, will literally take shape … How to help him to flourish? Interview with David Le Breton, professor of sociology and anthropologist at the University of Strasbourg.


A teenage girl looking at herself in a mirror


© iStock
A teenage girl looking at herself in a mirror


How are our teens?

According to researchers, 15 to 20% of young people are in distress, so we can say that the vast majority of them are well. But adolescence is experienced differently when you’re a girl or a boy, depending on the parents’ socio-professional background, their origin, whether you live in the city or

in the countryside … All these nuances influence the way a young person goes through his adolescence. Everyone will, in their own way, try to get used to their body in full metamorphosis and at the same time use it as a support to display their singularity and to build their personality. A vast program.

This metamorphosis is complicated anyway, isn’t it?

The adolescent has to face a multitude of changes: this new appearance that he does not necessarily like, new sensations, new desires, a call to detach himself from his parents in order to move towards unknown, enviable horizons. , but also distressing. All this constitutes the most acute identity crisis of all existence, a period of ambivalence, of research, of experimentation with one’s body and the body of the other. Openness to otherness and the initiation of sexuality can be painful, especially for those who are uncomfortable with their gender, male or female.

Why is appearance so important at this age?

The adolescent is aware of living an intermediate stage in the construction of the adult whom he has a sense of within him, but whom he still seeks. Some will spend time in front of the mirror examining themselves, others will focus on an anatomical detail that will take on disproportionate importance. Especially since the breasts that grow or the voice that shifts are sometimes a source of mockery on the part of the siblings. The blushes, awkwardness, defensive laughter, clumsiness testify to the teenager’s difficulty in assuming the person he has become in the eyes of others.

And is there not an increase in the image today?

The image, in fact, is no longer reserved for the bathroom mirror. It circulates and is shared on social networks, which can increase the discomfort of young people and confront them with permanent experimentation. The model is no longer the adult, and the teenager is extremely sensitive to the opinions of his peers. The adolescent undergoes puberty transformations without being able to control them, so most of his behaviors, on the Internet and elsewhere, aim to resume a minimum

control over this body that escapes him, in the hope of making it worthy of the gaze of others

and his own. Tattooing, piercing, makeup, haircut and hair dye, multiplication

selfies are all attempts in this direction.

Is there anything to do with the fact that they can abuse their bodies?

At one point or another, one in five young people will adopt a behavior known as ” at risk “. He throws himself against the world or hurts himself to relieve tension. It’s another way of using the body as a tool for experimentation, a battleground that helps repair self-esteem. Teenagers who feel bad about themselves have a greater need to hold on to their body, since it is the only place of control they can have over their lives, a concrete symbol and a mirror. A recourse to cling to reality and not sink.

Are scarifications the symptom of this battlefield?

Yes, when they are of a temporary nature, which is often the case. At the same time, like tattoos, they can also be a form of ” resistance »Political, whether within the family, whose expectations are crushing, or against the constraining societal model of the body object. The body is the raw material of the identity fabric. He must sometimes turn into this battlefield to gain access to himself or to get rid of his suffering. The skin becomes a sharp scratched border between oneself and the world. Many psychosomatic ailments (headache or stomach ache, joint pain, etc.) also express the same thing.

And through tattooing or piercing, what message do teens send to parents?

To sign your body is to say: ” My body is mine! It is a sign of emancipation, a way of entering into one’s personal history. Teenagers thus assert their desire to dispose of their body, to assume their style, and thus to symbolically break ties with the body of their parents. These practices give young people the feeling of having matured by cutting themselves off from the family envelope, and even of having added more meaning to their life. To appear is always an attempt to control the interior. But that’s no reason to let your teenager do whatever it takes. If he wants, for example, to have a tarantula tattooed on his neck, you have to explain to him that this is likely to compromise his future job interviews!

Isn’t that also a way to get noticed by their peers?

Absolutely. The bodily signs present a paradoxical mixture: at the same time claim of originality, personality, and submission to attitudes in accordance with his age group. A sign of rebellion, a mark of autonomy, but also a key to being admired and accepted. They offer a claimed way to no longer go unnoticed, melted in the mass. They bring prestige, at a time when the look has become a preponderant form of socialization among young people. A clothing brand error and they are described as ” jesters »… These elements have thus become the emblem of a generation and are valid as an integration patent. To be yourself, you have to be like the others, but with a minimal difference.

With or without filter

« I would like to have a flatter stomach “, Says Lou, 15, who also says she has complexes because she” finds his arms too big “. In a survey conducted by the brand Dove among young girls aged 8 to 15, almost half of them want to change something in their appearance. Digital filters on Snapchat or Instagram are encouraging this trend. Editing apps correct the flaws in selfies … but also create an idealized image of yourself that makes it all the more difficult to endure the one you have in the ” real life “. We are witnessing a new tyranny of standardized faces. Danger threatens. But resistance is also organized among adolescents who campaign on ” Insta ” for the ” no filter » !

> Also to discover: Immerse yourself in the minds of our teens with the new Special Edition Femina Version

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