|SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center|
Talking to Your Child About Puberty
Start "The Talk" Early
Today, kids are exposed to so much information about sex and relationships on TV and the Internet that by the time they approach puberty, they may be familiar with some advanced ideas. And yet, talking about the issues of puberty remains an important job for parents because not all of a child's information comes from reliable sources.
Don't wait for your child to come to you with questions about his or her changing body — that day may never arrive, especially if your child doesn't know it's OK talk to you about this sensitive topic.
Ideally, as a parent, you've already started talking to your kids about the changes our bodies go through as we grow. Since the toddler years, kids have questions and most of your discussions probably come about as the result of your child's inquiries.
It's important to answer these questions about puberty honestly and openly — but don't always wait for your child to initiate a discussion. By the time kids are 8 years old, they should know what physical and emotional changes are associated with puberty. That may seem young, but consider this: some girls are wearing training bras by then and some boys' voices begin to change just a few years later.
The Timing With Boys and Girls
With girls, it's vital that parents talk about menstruation before their daughters actually get their periods. If they are unaware of what's happening, girls can be frightened 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.
On average, boys begin going through puberty a little later than girls, usually around age 10 or 11. But they may begin to develop sexually or have their first ejaculation without looking older.
Just as it helps adults to know what to expect with changes such as moving to a new home or working for a new company, kids should know about puberty ahead of time.
Many kids receive some sex education at school. Often, though, the lessons are segregated, and the girls hear primarily about menstruation and training bras while the boys hear about erections and changing voices. It's important that girls learn about the changes boys go through and boys learn about those affecting girls, so check with teachers about their lesson plans so you know what gaps need to be filled. It's a good idea to review the lessons with your child, since kids often still have questions about certain topics.
What to Say
When talking to kids about puberty, it's important to be reassuring. Puberty brings about so many changes that it's easy for kids to feel insecure and alone.
Often, kids entering puberty feel insecure about their appearance, but 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, and 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 in the school locker room.
With boys, changes include the cracking and then deepening of the voice, and the growth of facial hair. And just as with girls, if your son is an early bloomer, he may feel awkward or like he's the subject of stares from his classmates.
Kids should know the following about puberty:
Not surprisingly, kids usually have lots of questions as they learn about puberty. It's important to make sure you give your child the time and opportunity to ask questions — and answer them as honestly and thoroughly as possible.
Some of the most common questions are:
Other Tips for Talking
Let your child know that you're available any time to talk. But it's also important to initiate conversations, too. As a parent, it's your job to try to discuss puberty — and the feelings associated with those changes — as openly as possible. While you might feel embarrassed or awkward discussing these sensitive topics, your child probably will be relieved to have you take the lead once in a while.
This can be easier if you're confident that you know the subject matter. So before you answer your child's questions, make sure your own questions have been answered. If you're not entirely comfortable having a conversation about puberty, practice what you want to say first. Let your child know that it may be a little uncomfortable to discuss, but it's an important talk to have.
If there are questions or concerns about puberty and development that you can't answer, ask your child's doctor for advice.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD