When and how to talk about puberty with your kids?
by Dr. Riham Ammar, Specialist Pediatrician
Puberty is a series of natural changes which every child goes through. Some young people and their families may struggle with the changes, while others go through it without major problems. The changes are physical, sexual, social and emotional and it’s not possible to predict how long your child will go through puberty. It may be anywhere from 18 months up to 5 years. Genetic, nutritional and social factors determine when puberty starts and how long it lasts.
- Prepubertal phase when all the secondary sexual characteristics start appearing for girls and boys. And this is the longest phase of puberty.
- Actual Puberty phase when girls start having their menstrual cycles and start ovulating and boys start ejaculation and producing sperm.
- Oily skin (acne is possible, based on skin type)
- Oily hair (possibly requiring frequent washing)
- Increased perspiration and body odor (frequent showering and deodorant help)
- A growth spurt (of around 11 cm a year in girls and up to 13 cm a year in boys).
- Breast development and possible tenderness
- A change in their figure, including widening of the hips
- Growth of pubic and underarm hair
- A clear or whitish vaginal discharge – this may occur before periods. See your doctor if your daughter experiences itching, pain or strong odor.
- The start of menstruation – periods may be irregular at first. Some discomfort, like headaches and stomach cramps, is normal but see your doctor if you have concerns
- Growth of the penis and testicles
- Growth of pubic, underarm and facial hair
- The start of testosterone production, which stimulates the testicles to produce sperm
- The start of erections and ejaculation
- Growth of the larynx – the voice ‘breaks’ and deepens. Voice variations are normal and will settle in time.
Puberty brings lots of changes for a young person – and for the parents, too. As a parent or carer, you probably wish to show them your best support through these physical, psychological and emotional changes while transitioning from child to adult.
By the time they come close to puberty, they may be familiar with some advanced ideas they learned from friends, Internet or TV. However, talking about puberty is an important job for parents to give them the right information and proper advice related to such critical and vulnerable phase in children growth and development because not all these other information resources are reliable.
Don’t wait for your kids to come to you with questions about their changing body.
This is usually a sensitive topic so they might not feel comfortable at first. Help them by showing that it’s OK to ask you about this delicate subject. Talking to your kids about the changes their bodies will go through as they grow should continue. Nurturing open, honest conversations always helps.
You may need to start these talks earlier than you think, so it’s good to be prepared. It is advisable to discuss the physical and emotional changes that come with puberty before they begin.
When to talk about puberty?
Parents should talk about menstruation before their daughters start their period. 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 2 and a half years after they begin puberty. But some get their periods as early as age 9, while others get it as late as age 16.
For boys, puberty normally starts when they’re 9 to 15 years old. On average, boys begin going through puberty around the age of 10 or 11, a little later than girls usually.
Don’t forget regular pubescent check-ups!
It is very important to take your teenager to their pediatrician for a comprehensive teen checkup during the prepubertal phase. Make sure their growth and development are going with normal pace and rule out any possible hormonal imbalance / vitamins and minerals deficiencies during this growth spurt phase. Many of them might need extra vitamins supplementation, especially calcium, vitamin D and iron to maintain their vitality and neuromusculoskeletal growth and development.
How to talk about puberty?
Be reassuring when talking to kids about puberty since it’s easy for kids to feel insecure and alone. Going through puberty, they will often worry about how they look.
You can help them by sharing that everyone goes through these changes, and many of those are awkward. Explain that the timing of these changes can vary significantly. Acne, mood changes, growth spurts, and hormonal changes — it’s all part of growing up and everyone goes through it, but not necessarily at the same pace.
Timing is important
Pick a time to talk when there are no distractions, and don’t be worried if your child doesn’t want to share everything with you. They may prefer to talk to your family doctor or a counselor.
These are all vital lessons for young people, as the experiences create a foundation of understating for an adolescent about how to identify and develop throughout their adult life. Reassure them and help send the message that you are a safe person to talk to if they need to.