|SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center|
Talking to Your Child About Puberty
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 child 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 they actually get their periods. If they are unaware of what's happening, girls can be frightened by the sight and location of blood. Most girls get their first period when they're 12 or 13 years old, which is about two or two and a half years after they begin puberty. But some get their periods as early as age 9 and 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 or developing facial hair first.
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 beforehand.
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 offer reassurance that these changes are normal. Puberty brings about so many changes. It's easy for a child to feel insecure, and as if he or she is the only one experiencing these changes.
Many times, adolescents will express insecurity about their appearance as they go through puberty, but it can help them to know that everyone goes through the same things and that there's a huge amount of normal variation in their timing. 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, observable 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. For you, 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:
Tips for Talking
Let your child know that you're available any time to talk, but it's also important that you make time to talk. As embarrassing or difficult it may be for you to talk about these sensitive topics, your child will likely feel even more uncomfortable. As a parent, it's your job to try to discuss puberty — and the feelings associated with those changes — as openly as possible.
It can be made easier if you're confident that you know the subject matter. First, 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 or ask your child's doctor for advice. 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 pubertal development that you can't answer, a visit to your child's doctor may help provide reassurance.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD