Puberty is a time of major change for adolescents and often a time of confusion and “cringeworthy” (as my grandkids would say) conversations. Parents can be instrumental in helping kids cope with the transformation – but make sure you’re prepared for real questions.
Rather than sitting down for “the talk” or, as my mother did, giving your child a book to read and never discussing puberty again, plan to have a series of conversations. Find out what your children know about the changes they’re experiencing, and then educate them with facts. Explain bodily changes as your child notices them, and prepare him or her for the next change coming.
Puberty begins at different ages for everyone, though usually between the ages of 8 and 12 for girls and a year or two later for boys. At these ages, hormones from the brain stimulate the ovaries in girls or testicles in boys to release estrogen or testosterone, and hormones from the adrenal glands stimulate changes such as hair growth.
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For girls, the progression of puberty usually begins with breast development and the growth of pubic hair, followed a year or two later by a growth spurt and changes in body shape. Most girls complete puberty and begin to menstruate by age 16, give or take.
Boys typically begin puberty between ages 10 and 16. Two issues unique to boys are gynecomastia, or mild swelling and tenderness under the breasts that usually resolves within six to 12 months, and nocturnal emission, often referred to as “wet dreams” – both of which are to be expected and completely normal.
It can be helpful to begin conversations about these issues earlier than the changes begin so kids feel comfortable asking questions. Ask your kids what they know and believe is going on. You need to understand any information or misinformation they have. Give factual explanations of the changes they will experience.
Encourage your children not to compare themselves with others. Different adolescents develop at different stages, often related to genetics and timing of their parents’ own puberty cycles, but everybody gets there eventually.
Some common topics to discuss are things that can easily be addressed, such as acne and hygiene. If acne is an issue, address it with over-the-counter remedies and diet changes. If those fail, discuss it with your child’s doctor. Finally, emphasize the importance of good bodily hygiene and the use of deodorant. Body odor, like everything else about puberty, can be managed by educating kids on how to prevent it.
For more information or to find a pediatrician near you, visit mercy.net/laduenews.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.