It happens to everyone: PUBERTY. Although puberty starts anywhere from age 9-16, every teen will eventually experience the hormonal changes and subsequent body changes as well. With that being said, the subject of puberty is still “awkward” for some parents and most of the time it is a subject that a child/tween isn’t really interested in discussing either.
But, the discussion of puberty is not only necessary for everyone, both parent and child, it is also one of the most important talks a parent will have with their child. So many of my patients, around 9 -11 years old, tell me “they don’t want to talk about growing up or body changes”. In a few cases their bodies are already changing and it must be confusing if they haven’t even talked about puberty, right? I know they may hear things from their friends, and many schools have puberty “talks” somewhere around 5th or even 6th grade, but that is often too late.
The biggest concern I have is misinformation. If a parent does not sit down and have the basic “ birds and bees” discussion, their child may hear all sorts of crazy information. With all of the internet availability as well I worry that a child might search on their own and go to websites with “too much information” for the first discussions about puberty.
The facts of life and the male and female anatomy have not changed!! I think it is every parents responsibility ( I jokingly tell the kids that when they were born we parents were given a contract that says we HAVE TO HAVE THE TALK) to find the appropriate time to sit down with their child and begin the discussion of puberty. This is often more of an anatomy lesson and the biology of the human body. If a child has never asked about the difference between males and females (most have prior to this) then that is a good starting place. Many times questions will arise that leads to further discussion including sexuality.
Every parent knows their own child and may approach the “facts of life” discussion in their own way. There are a lot of good books to help facilitate the discussion and I went to the bookstore to check out books that I wanted my children to have as a resource as well. I remember my own mother using a World Book encyclopedia with the human body pages of transparencies when she talked to me. I also remember being horrified.
Puberty should not be mysterious, every child needs to be comfortable with their changing body (and mind) and parents are key to providing this information.
Lastly, it usually takes more than one discussion to cover all of the topics and different topics are more appropriate at different ages. Don’t stop the conversation, make sure you let your child know that nothing is off limits, so if they have questions or concerns, ask.