Talking With Your Child About Puberty: How and When?
Talking about puberty with your pre-teen or teen shouldn’t be awkward. Did your parent sit you down and have a frank and honest “birds and the bees” discussion? Did a pamphlet mysteriously appear on your bed one evening without any further mention? Or did you hear about puberty and all that goes along with it from friends or television? Today our kids have information at their fingertips, literally, so the days of completely avoiding difficult conversations are over if you want to have some input on what information your child hears.
Start “The Talks” Early
Kids see and hear a lot about sex and relationships on TV and online. By the time they near puberty, they may be familiar with some advanced ideas. But talking about puberty is still an important job for parents because not all this other information is reliable.
Don’t wait for your kids to come to you with questions about their changing body. They might not, especially if they don’t know that it’s OK to ask you about this sensitive topic.
Talking about puberty isn’t a one-time conversation. Talk to your kids about the changes their bodies will go through as they grow. Some girls start puberty at 8 years old, and some boys do by 9, so you may need to start these talks earlier than you think. Discuss the physical and emotional changes that come with puberty before they begin.
The Timing With Boys and Girls
Normally, puberty starts in girls when they’re between 8 and 14 years old. With girls, parents should talk about menstruation before their daughters start their periods. If they don’t know what’s happening, girls can be scared by the sight and location of the blood.
Most girls get their first period when they’re 12 or 13 years old, which is about 2 or 2½ years after they begin puberty. But some get their periods as early as age 9, while others get it as late as age 16.
In boys, puberty normally starts when they’re 9 to 15 years. On average, boys begin going through puberty a little later than girls, usually around age 10 or 11.
Many kids have some sex education at school. Often, boys and girls are taught separately. The girls hear mostly about menstruation and training bras, while boys hear about erections and changing voices. But girls also should learn about the changes boys go through and boys should learn about those affecting girls. Check with teachers about their lesson plans so you know what gaps you need to fill. It’s a good idea to review the lessons with your child, as kids often still have questions about some topics.
What Should I Say?
When talking to kids about puberty, be reassuring. This time brings so many changes that it’s easy for kids to feel insecure and alone.
Often, kids going through puberty worry about how they look. It can help them to know that everyone goes through these changes, many of them awkward. They also should know that the timing of these changes can vary greatly. Acne, mood changes, growth spurts, and hormonal changes — it’s all part of growing up and everyone goes through it, but not always at the same pace.
Girls may begin puberty as early as second or third grade. It can be upsetting if your daughter is the first one to get a training bra, for example. She may feel alone and awkward or like all eyes are on her.
With boys, changes include the cracking and then deepening of the voice, and the growth of facial hair. A boy who is an early or late bloomer might feel awkward or like he’s the subject of stares from his classmates.
Kids should know these things about puberty:
- Girls become more rounded, especially in the hips and legs.
- Girls’ breasts begin to swell and then grow, sometimes one faster than the other.
- Girls and boys get pubic hair and underarm hair, and their leg hair becomes thicker and darker.
- Both girls and boys often get acne and start to sweat more.
- Both girls and boys have a growth spurt.
- Boys’ penises and testicles grow larger.
- Boys’ voices change and become deeper.
- Boys grow facial hair and their muscles get bigger.
- Boys sometimes have wet dreams, which means they ejaculate in their sleep.
- When a girl begins menstruating, each month her uterine lining fills with blood in preparation for a fertilized egg. If the egg isn’t fertilized, she will have a period. If it is fertilized, she will become pregnant.
- A girl’s period may last 3 days to a week, and she can use sanitary napkins (pads) or tampons.
To read the article in full including typical questions kids might ask, check out KidsHealth HERE.