Preparing Your Child for Puberty
Without a doubt, puberty can be a tumultuous time for your child as he or she transitions into a young adult. All kinds of physical and emotional changes are in store, waiting to wreak havoc on not only your child but on their relationships with siblings, friends, and, of course, parents. However, getting a deeper understanding of what these changes are can go a long way in helping you provide the support your child needs during this period in their life.
What is puberty?
First, of all, you may be wondering what exactly puberty is. You already know it’s when your sweet angel turns into a moody and unpredictable stranger, but what is actually happening? Puberty occurs when changes in your child’s brain cause an explosion of new nerve endings, allowing much deeper thoughts. It also causes sex hormones to be released into the ovaries for girls, and the testes for boys. This typically happens from the age of 10 to 12 for girls and around 11 to 13 for boys; as a result, girls may often look and act more mature than boys of the same age.
The most common outward changes that occur in both girls and boys are:
- Oily skin and hair
- Noticeable growth spurt
- The appearance of pubic hair and underarm hair
- Greater perspiration and body odor
Girls will also notice:
- Changes in their figure and a widening in their hips
- Development of breasts and greater sensitivity in that area
- Beginning of menstruation—as well as symptoms such as cramps
Boy will see:
- Penis and testes growth
- Erections and ejaculations (“wet dreams” are common)
- Growth in the voice box, resulting in unexpected voice ‘breaks’ and an eventual deepening of the voice
Emotional and social changes
Along with the physical changes that arrive with puberty, you’ll be witness to—and on the receiving end of—your child’s mood changes and often perplexing reactions to things happening in their life:
- They will want to establish their own identity and independence, and want to experience things and relationships that may be at odds with your values.
- They will have greater sensitivity about their appearance and their physical changes.
- They may sometimes exhibit feelings of invincibility and take unnecessary risks and/or make questionable decisions, especially around their friends.
- Privacy and a prescribed personal space will become much more important to them than in the past.
Helping your child navigate the changes
No two children experience puberty in quite the same way. Some make it through with relatively little drama; others are transformed into creatures that family and friends barely recognize. The most important thing to remember when your child is dealing with puberty is to be consistently reassuring and to remind them that the changes they are experiencing are perfectly normal and to be as understanding and patient as possible.
While this may sound simplistic, it is harder to achieve than you think—it’s all too easy to react emotionally to your child’s outbursts and/or criticize their decisions and appearance. This will only reinforce their insecurities and make them see you as unsympathetic—the last thing you want. You still want to set reasonable limits and expectations on their behavior, but you can do so in a way that allows your children to explore their independence while being made aware of consequences if certain lines are crossed.
Your children will also be aware of peers who are developing earlier or later than they are. Again, reassure them that everyone develops on their own schedule and that bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
A few extra things to keep top of mind:
- Be accepting of your child’s privacy. Always knock before opening the door to their room—there is the possibility that they are exploring their bodies through masturbation.
- Praise them for their achievements and positive efforts.
- Stay calm during angry outbursts. Wait for your child to calm down before talking about a problem.
- Talk to other parents of young teens and share your experiences. This can help you reduce your stress as well as get new ideas of how to handle certain situations.
- Try to be supportive of your child’s self-expression, such as extreme haircuts or strange clothing choices.
- If your child wants to have a tattoo or piercing, don’t say no immediately—ask if they would be willing to have temporary version now.
- If your child has widespread acne—and it bothers them—support them by taking them to your pediatrician.
Although it may seem otherwise, puberty is an exciting and special time in your child’s life. It’s the beginning of the end of their childhood and the process by which they transition into a new phase in their life in which they become independent, self-directed adults. While this phase often comes with challenges and anxieties, the more supportive you can be of your child throughout their puberty, the greater the dividends it will deliver when they emerge from it.