Scrawny Teenage Son Having Confidence Issues

Updated on April 07, 2018
S.K. asks from Los Angeles, CA
16 answers

Our 17 year old son is a sweet, handsome young man, but just has not grown / filled out like he would like to. They've done labwork and the doctor has said there's nothing abnormal, but he's just small. My husband is 6'1 and solid, I'm 5'10 and strong - I'm an ER nurse. Our son at this point is only 5'6 and barely cracks 120 on the scale. I don't think it bothers as much with his dad, but it mortifies him that he is smaller still than I am. A few months ago he had a flat tire while driving with his former girlfriend, and started to change it but couldn't turn the lugnuts. He called me, I drove to him and helped him finish changing the tire...Apparently this got around to his friends and they tease him.

I'm not sure what to do with this...if he needs help lifting a heavy box do I not help him? Obviously that's not in a mother's nature. Do I pretend he's stronger than he is? When negotiating his curfew, he didn't think it was very funny when I suggested we armwrestle for it.

Im sure it's difficult for him, but I have trouble entering the mind of a 17 year old boy. Advice, please?

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I would go to the gym with him and help him find some exercises that will build some muscle. Not bodybuilder stuff, but core strength and upper body stuff. He could build a little muscle over a few months. Adding protein to his diet should help him too.

I know a guy that was barely 5' when we graduated high school but he's 6' now. He grew after high school. It's not common to do that though.

Living with a small body or large body or one that's completely different is hard for anyone that just wants to fit in. I'm sorry he's having to go through this.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Buffalo on

My dd is quite small for her age. It's probably easier for girls than boys to be on the small side but she's found sports and activities where being small is an asset. Is he close to graduating? He sounds like he had a girlfriend, so it's not an obstacle in his social life. People do tease, but he just needs a come back.
He may also be a late bloomer, I saw plenty of guys at my HS reunion who grew quite a bit after graduation...everyone filled out too...some too much!

If it were me - I'd probably help him when nobody else was around. If there are other guys around, maybe they could help lift. As far as the car goes...I belong to the local autoclub...use it all the time!


My dd is quite small for her age. It's probably easier for girls than boys to be on the small side but she's found sports and activities where being small is an asset. Is he close to graduating? He sounds like he had a girlfriend, so it's not an obstacle in his social life. People do tease, but he just needs a come back.
He may also be a late bloomer, I saw plenty of guys at my HS reunion who grew quite a bit after graduation...everyone filled out too...some too much!

If it were me - I'd probably help him when nobody else was around. If there are other guys around, maybe they could help lift. As far as the car goes...I belong to the local autoclub...use it all the time!

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answers from Abilene on

I’m hoping you’re not referring to him as scrawny to his face. I can’t think you would ever think that was a good idea.

Let me ask you something...what if when you came home someone mentioned your weaknesses in a teasing manner? How would you respond?

I have a horrible sense of direction. My ex husband’s family teased me unmercifully about it. It cratered my self confidence and made me a nervous driver. Finally my precious aunt took me aside and gave me some practical tools. I can still hear her telling me, do you have a full tank of gas? Who cares if you get lost. Take your time and enjoy the drive.

Joking about your son’s size, weight, abilities or anything like that is cruel in my opinion. Home should always be a haven where someone feels protected and secure to be who they are. The world is harsh enough.

Do not joke another time about his size. Do not arm wrestle or try to show your superiority of strength. Tell him you’re sorry and you are happy to help him if he’d like to meet with a trainer or take martial arts if he’s interested.

You state your son is sweet and handsome. Concentrate on his character NOT his outward appearance. No matter how beautiful a person is on the outside, if they’re a**holes it doesn’t matter. I know it sounds cliche, but looks and strength will come and go...character is everything.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

This is what I got from this short post:

You think your son is scrawny.
You and your husband are big and strong.
Your son feels bad that he is not as big and strong as you.
You, possibly, showed off your strength in front of his girlfriend without thinking how this might make him feel. (I would have said that the lugnuts were really tight and I needed his help.)
You have such great mommy-bear instincts that you need to carry heavy boxes for your teenage son, yet feel it is ok to make fun of him with the arm wrestling comment.

I would turn up the dial on the mom instincts. The world can be a crappy enough place without your Mom rubbing it in your face that you don't measure up. Think about how feels with your interactions. You don't have to be a teenage boy to figure out it sucks for him being smaller that everyone else. Moms should build their kids up and get them ready for what the world will throw at them. Take his lead, but give him options for nutrition counseling and strength training, if he wants them. Give him jobs around the house that will build his confidence and ego and play to his interests and strengths.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

A big part of training a young adult to "spread wings" to independence is teaching them to use their resources.

Changing the tire for your 17-year old (son or daughter) and lifting a box for your 17-year-old (son or daughter), is at best stifling the 17-year-old's problem-solving skills (and, at worst, it's just you showing off).

Teach your son to CALL TRIPLE A! Teach your son to navigate how to pack boxes in a way that he is able to lift them.

Your son will be 18 soon, mom, and might not always live at home. Rather than focusing your attention on his "scrawn", focus on building up his brain, his independence, his problem-solving skills.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

As his mom you are ok with calling him scrawny?
I don't know - maybe I just see the term as a negative and an insult while others don't see it that way.

Slender is great for so many reasons.
Lots of bulky muscles take a lot of maintaining and often turn to flab.
It's no guarantee against health issues.
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has had major heart surgery twice over.
Lug nuts can be tough even for a 200 lb guy.
Moving heavy objects is often a matter of leverage.
Brawn is not always something to be admired.

Some taekwondo would be great for him.
One of the instructors of the class our son went to before leaving for college is about the same size and build as your son.
He's lightning fast in sparring and often kicks and moves before anyone can block him or land a counter strike.
Also his jumps are incredibly high and I've seen him break bricks.

While you and your husband obviously take a lot of pride in your own physical prowess - take care not to put your son down.
Boys can have body image issues as well as girls.
If you love him - you love him as he is and you don't bully him about how he's built.
I don't think arm wrestling for a curfew is funny either.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

17 year old boys can have body issues just like everyone else. Don't tease or mock him like you did with the arm wrestling comment or call him scrawny. Likely he is not going to be big, strong, and solid like you and your husband. That expectation needs to go and it seem your perception and attitude could be contributing to his insecurities.. You are his mother and should support him. Being 17, he needs to take the wheel on his development now. There are many ways he can become more fit even if he is not a big strapping lad. Martial arts will do this and build confidence. He can pursue workouts suggested by trainers at a gym. He has to decide what his goals are and come up with strategies to get him there. I agree with others about him developing problem solving skills. For example, don't lift boxes for him and make him feel even worse, empower him instead by helping him come up with ways to handle it on his own such as packing smaller and lighter boxes. Come at this with an attitude of helping him learn and not that he is small and weak.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Ditto everything michelle s said.
My son was small too, and at almost 25 he is 5'7 and about 140. I never considered him "scrawny." He ran track in high school and pretty much all the runners were small and STRONG.
If your son is genuinely bothered by his size you should be reminding him that people come in all shapes and sizes and he should focus on his strengths. Encourage him to run, hike, play tennis, whatever. And knock it off with the teasing, it may seem harmless to you but it's not funny and it probably hurts his feelings, coming from his own mother :-(

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Talk to the athletic director at the school - ours has a workout area for the kids, and a knowledgeable professional can easily design a lifting program for any kid. They start will small weights and proper form/posture (vital!), and do a certain number of repetitions with breaks in between. They rotate from one piece of equipment to another, working different sets of muscles.

Also talk to the local Y or gym to find out about a teen membership. Most offer 3 free sessions with a trainer. Again, the goal is to learn proper technique and not just fling heavy weights around.

Get a AAA membership for everyone, and don't make jokes about arm wrestling.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

I'd immediately throw out that weight scale, or stash it away in your closet where no one can see it for awhile. Unless a teen is morbidly obese and in danger due to being overweight, a parent shouldn't be so aware of the teen's weight.

Instead of ever again mentioning your son's or your or your husband's height and weight, focus on strengths, character, reliability, kindness, trustworthiness.

Help your son gain some personal power. Many cell phone providers and auto insurance companies have a road service rescue (gas, lockout service, changing a tire). Without making a big deal of it, add that service to your son's insurance or cell phone and just tell him to make sure to call that, not you (tell him you might be at work, and it's time he had his own road service contract).

As for helping carry something heavy, well that's just common sense and kindness. But you can say something like "hey, want a hand with that?" and not point out that you're bigger and stronger. Be matter of fact.

And of course you don't pretend anything. What does that teach? But you DO show him what matters in life. Which is not strength unless you're a professional wrestler. As an ER nurse, of course you need physical strength, but frankly, I'd rather have an ER nurse with compassion and heart and a helpful attitude than one who's able to lift a hospital bed with one hand.

Does your son have any skills, hobbies, interests? Chess, government, computers, technology, animal care, etc? Make sure he has the capability to pursue whatever makes him HIM. Weight is flexible, height is unpredictable, but brain power and personal character can be developed, molded, and they are much more valuable.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Well - as far the strength part goes, can he not do strength training? that would be my advice. My kids do that. It doesn't take long.

As far as teasing - stop obviously. That's just not helping. I was teased growing up. I love what Lori wrote.

I would just accept your son's size and empower him as he is. He may not grow much bigger and that's fine. You can be small and strong. My son is the smallest on his team. He wins awards and scores.

Focus on what he does well and what he can change.

I think as far as pretending he's stronger - that serves no one. I would just be honest and say if you want to be stronger you have to work on it.

I'm not perfect - I've teased my kids at times, and seen immediately how it affected them. Kids need us to think they rock just as they are. Not as being perfect - that's too much pressure for them - but just as they are.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

You are his mom and you are calling him scrawny? Seriously? I think you need to get beyond your jr high way of thinking and just stop being a jerk to your son. People come in all shapes and sizes and big and strong isn't better than short and petite. If you truly want to help your son you'll stop being a dick about this.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i'm sure it's hard for him, but i don't think it would help to avoid giving him a hand if he needs it, and certainly not to be dishonest and 'pretend' he's a bruiser when he's not.

it's also not really necessary to tease him by suggesting the arm wrestle.

i think i'd treat this much as i treated my son, who was heavy from childhood through his early teens. that is to keep the discussion door open, but to try not to harp on it. it can be a bit of a wobbly line to navigate between being open and encouraging yet not making the kid feel fussed at, but if you know your kid you can figure it out.

and the best way to do that is to ask HIM how he'd like to be supported. would he like to see a nutritionist? a personal trainer? to have some protein-building shakes available? to get a set of hand weights for his next birthday?

maybe he'd find it helpful to role play with you and come up with some responses when he gets teased.

above all don't blow it up. obviously you don't want to be dismissive of something he's sensitive about, but if you are angsting madly that will contribute to his anxiety. if you are calm and matter of fact, he'll take your cues. it may be that he'll be a small man throughout his life, but confidence and self-acceptance are invaluable traits to help him develop no matter how his muscles do.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

This sounds like a difficult situation for you, but it's not as bad as you think.
If your son really feels upset about it, suggest that he joins a gym or even buys some basic hand weights for at home. If he can bulk his arms up a little he'll feel more confident and also be physically stronger. In any case, reassure him that it's normal and everyone looks different, because you've proved he has no health issues so it's literally just the way he is. Maybe he'll get bigger in height, maybe not, but the rest of his shape can be changed with muscle if that's what he wants. Try not to mock him even if you think it's just an innocent joke, because that might make him feel worse about himself. It's not easy being a teenager but we all have to go through it! Best of luck

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answers from Santa Fe on

Lori H.'s answer is perfect.

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answers from Portland on

I suggest he try marshall arts. He will gain confidence and become stronger.

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