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I am a school counselor working with 14-18 year old students. I have been made aware of a 14 year old male student who has body odor so noxious that his teacher came to me and mentioned that other students are noticing it and staying away from him. I have talked to female students in the past and related to them woman to woman about taking care of their bodies, but I am unsure of how to address the situation with a male student with whom I have no prior contact. Any suggestions? I can talk to all of the young men in his grade and remind them that growing up involves treating their bodies differently, but I'm concerned that he would feel more singled out than if I pulled him aside separately.

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Not an answer, but be very careful about addressing this. Some medical conditions, or even medications, can cause strong or offensive body odors. If this is the cause, then suggesting he improve his hygiene would be about the worst thing you could do to his self-esteem over something he most likely is already very self-conscious about. –  Beofett Feb 6 '13 at 14:32
    
+1 to @Beofett for pointing out potential medical issues. –  Valkyrie Feb 6 '13 at 16:42
    
Have you ruled out that 1) the child/family may be homeless 2) they may not have water or power to heat it 2) signs of abuse or mistreatment. There are so many causes that seem like they are being ignored here. –  Stephen Feb 8 '13 at 2:55

2 Answers 2

I've been in that boy's situation before, although perhaps to a smaller degree. Anti-perspirant gives me an unbearable burning rash, and deodorant is bearable, but barely. In high school, it wasn't quite that bad, but still uncomfortable. Either my skin has gotten worse or it's all the extra extra extra strength ingredients they use nowadays.

What you don't want to do is address it in a group small enough for him to be the only one with the problem. Everyone knows who you are talking about, and rather than feeling anonymous in a crowd, he will feel like he is being personally berated in front of a crowd.

Really this is under the parents' purview. You should tell them some other students have begun noticing his odor, that you wanted to make them aware, and if there's anything you can do to help.

What parents should know, or school officials if the parents are unable or unwilling to address it, is that he is likely aware of the issue, but may not be aware of how much other people notice, or he knows but cares about his own comfort more. He probably would fix it if he knew a convenient and comfortable way to do so. In other words, you're most likely not telling him something he doesn't already know.

Talk to him in private and get to the root of the matter. Even if the odor isn't avoidable altogether due to some sort of medical or skin condition, there are usually ways to mitigate it. He can try using other brands, or a deodorant without anti-perspirant. He can shower in the morning instead of at night. He can wash his clothes more often. Maybe his coat is too heavy, so he sweats too much on the trip to school. He can talk to a dermatologist or other doctor. In this list of conditions, almost all of them have medicinal or dietary changes that can help. These are things it may have never occurred to him to try.

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I was a Middle School Science and Health teacher for awhile and had to deal with this issue often. First, your idea of having a meeting with all the boys about new hygiene methods (and then also all the girls as well - some schools do same time, others do separately) isn't a bad one at all. If it isn't already standard, it might not be a bad idea for it to become standard - at the very beginning of this age group's school year (for us, it was sixth grade) before anyone starts getting "stinky." However, now that there is someone in particular with a problem that might not have felt singled out if it was standard procedure at the beginning of the year, it is probably too late to do this now, without having him feel singled out.

In regard to the one boy in particular, I suggest looking at his records for mention of illnesses that may play a part in body odor and gently asking the parents about it, for reasons also mentioned by Beofett.

Not an answer, but be very careful about addressing this. Some medical conditions, or even medications, can cause strong or offensive body odors. If this is the cause, then suggesting he improve his hygiene would be about the worst thing you could do to his self-esteem over something he most likely is already very self-conscious about.

He makes a very good point. You'll want to do this before addressing the whole class as the more knowledge you are armed with the more sensitive you can be even in the whole-class situation. If he is conscious of the problem, but unable to do much about it, even a whole-class situation will make him feel singled out. Kids are smart and he will know what is going on.

The parents may also be sensitive (even if it is just a hygiene issue), so I suggest approaching it from concern for his social standing before bringing up the fact that a teacher alerted you to it. Make sure everyone involved feels loving concern from you rather than judgement. If there isn't anything medical, the parents might be relieved at the idea of help, or they may have some hang-up about talking to their son about things. I once had one mom insist that her children (she had twin boys with the problem you are facing) not be exposed to "commercials" about deodorants that contain "unhealthy chemicals" to which her precious sons should not be exposed even by knowing that deodorants exist (She was upset about a picture in the text-book we were using).

If there is more to it than just a hygiene issue, you can brainstorm with the parents (and boy) about ways to address the social challenge through education (without getting personal) if they want the help. If they don't, leave it be.

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