Rather than being victims of online harms, such as an unhealthy body image obsession, teenage boys are able to use humour, irony and banter to navigate social media content, a new research found.
“The evidence from teenage boys indicated that you can be a gymlad if you’re ‘ripped’, with a toned gym body, but you can also use gymlad in an ironic way,” said study lead researcher Victoria Goodyear from University of Birmingham in the UK.
“Using humour and irony means that boys can still aspire to have gym bodies and be motivated by sport, exercise and healthy diets, but without the risk of being put down or ridiculed by their peers,” Goodyear said.
For the study, published in Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, researchers investigated how young boys use Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube to learn about physical activity, diet and body image.
Over a 12-month period, more than 1,300 teenage boys from 10 schools and from a range of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds engaged a series of class activities, interviews, workshops and a survey.
In contrast to popular opinion, the study showed teenage boys were intelligent and critical users and generators of social media.
For example, they used irony, through hashtags like #gymlad to enable them to post selfies about their bodies in the gym without fear of ridicule, and within a context of acceptable banter.
The research highlights the need for adults – parents, carers and teachers – to try to better understand and empathise, rather than criticise how young people use social media.
“We need to support adults to become more digitally literate, so they understand both the positive and the negative potential of social media,” Goodyear said.
“They can then help young people navigate these landscapes to produce positive health education outcomes.”