Puberty is the time of the greatest growth and development in a child’s life. It is a process whereby the child’s body, mind, sexual and reproductive organs begin to mature into a young adult– tough time, or don’t you think so? Though it appears the onset of puberty is gradually becoming slightly earlier, puberty more often than not starts when a girl is between the ages 8 and 14 years; and ages 9 and 14 years in boys. This change may or may not be related to the increase in obesity, chemical contamination of food, use of steroids in agriculture and high-stress levels. At the moment, it remains a subject of debate and research; body weight appears to be the clearest link – heavier girls tend to enter puberty earlier.
The goal of this article is to educate and inform you of the changes and tough times these children are experiencing so you can be more supportive as well help your children make informed decisions. A lot of us parents have done mistakes that would have been better avoided, we can help prevent more from happening.
What are the signs of puberty?
At puberty, most children are uncomfortable with their image. They may not like the way they look. They feel clumsy, shy and insecure. So as parents, do not contribute to their ‘pain’ by over teasing or comparing them with others. Teach them about the way their bodies feel to them, parts of the body, about relationships, and about male/female roles in the family. These children are very smart and observant, so you have to practice what you preach particularly when it comes to values. Hopefully, you would have taught them sex education from age five years old, if not start now.
I know parents are sometimes uncomfortable talking about puberty or sex with their children. I felt more comfortable talking to my daughter than my son about sex and puberty. A lot I believe don’t know how after all nobody taught them how. Times have changed, there are a lot of resources on the internet for you to read, listen to and learn. Talking about sex/reproduction will not encourage your child to experiment with sex. Children, whose parents discuss sexuality with them openly, tend to be more aware, and they delay becoming sexually active, compared to youth whose parents do not raise this topic. Daughters that are aware do not get tricked into believing nonsense like a boy developing blue balls because he is sex starved, or feel having sex binds friendships as a source of gratification.
Another challenge some parents face is they are not sure what their children need to know, already know and when they need to know it. As parents, pay a little more attention so you can provide the guidance and knowledge your children need to become responsible, happy adults. As a parent, you are your child’s most reliable source of information about puberty. Your children need basic facts about the changes they should expect, and it is important to assure them that the changes of puberty are normal.
To reap the benefits of this talk, it is best you talk to your children before the physical changes start to happen, do not overload them in one sitting. Offer your child age appropriate books about puberty, and set a time to talk about what your child learned. Great if you share some of your teen experiences so that your child knows Mom and Dad went through this period too.
Puberty I must confess was a challenging time for my parents and me. I wish my parents had a “Puberty 101” course to help us through this time! Teach teens about the changes that occur during puberty, such as the following:
Teach teens about the changes that occur during puberty, such as the following:
- Girls’ hips become more rounded when they reach puberty than it was when they were younger.
- Girls’ nipples start to grow first and then the breasts under them.
- Girls may have whitish jelly from their vagina before or in between periods, (assure them not to worry, it’s just the body’s way of cleaning itself.)
- Menstruation is a sure sign that girls can become pregnant. Girls should learn how to use pads. Make them understand that periods may not be regular at first but they typically last 4 to 6 days and occur every 21 to 45 days in the first two years.
- Girls and boys get soft/fine pubic, and armpit hair, and then the hair becomes harder/coarser.
- Boys and girls have mood swings or feeling more emotional or aggressive than usual
- Boys’ penises and testicles grow longer and wider.
- Boys sometimes have wet dreams.
- Boys sometimes have temporary breast growth during puberty (this is normal – not man boobs or moobs)
- Boys’ develop an Adam’s apple, and their voices deepen
- Oilier skin and spots, pimples or blackheads
- Hair also starts to grow on boys face, like a beard, moustache or sideburns.
- Sweating more than usual causing an increase in body odour
- Early morning erect penis or when you don’t expect it. The erections sometimes happen because he is nervous or excited and other times it just happens by itself! An erect penis can be a bit embarrassing; assure your son other people don’t usually notice them as much as he does and if he doesn’t think about it, things will settle down again
- Increased interest in sex
- Increase in weight or “growth spurts”, boys shoulders get wider
- Boys and girls have mood swings or feeling more emotional or aggressive than usual. Please show compassion dear parents, let your child know that you are there to help and will not tease, embarrass or ridicule him/her. Emotional changes for girls and boys around puberty occur along with many physical changes. This includes:
- Having to cope with a changing body and the attention this draws to them. They now have a new body shape and may start to feel self-conscious about how they look. They may also feel embarrassed if they think they are different from their friends.
- Frustration because they feel different or frustrating waiting for them to happen.
- Mood swings – the unexpected release of hormones into a young person’s body can bring about extreme emotions and mood swings.
- The physical growth and other changes can make a young person feel full of energy one moment and tired the next. This may explain why they eat more or wake up to rummage through the fridge at night.
Adolescents are usually very aware of how their development compares to that of their friends and when it varies significantly from the norm this can be a source of high anxiety along with social and emotional struggles, so offer them all the support you can. I believe you know some teens develop faster than others, and a few take their time.
Puberty is the time to encourage children to look after themselves by eating healthily, exercising (it makes you feel good) and getting plenty of rest so that their body has the energy to cope with all the growing it has to do.
Diagnosing early or late puberty
Take your child to a pediatrician or GP if there are no signs of breast development by the age of 14; or if she begins to develop breasts or menstruate at age 7. She should also have an assessment if at 16 years her breasts have grown but she has had not had a menstrual period yet. A delay in testicular development by the age of 14 would indicate late puberty for boys – also if the penis and testicles have not yet reached full adult development since the beginning of puberty.
Puberty and parents
Many parents do not understand that as children grow up, their desire for independence, combined with wild mood swings caused by hormones, can make for a volatile home environment. Learn to stay calm, establish rules about safety and try to allow the child space to develop. Encourage the child to show you through their actions that they are responsible and can take care of themselves. Teach them about choices and that they come with consequences. Show them decision making and allow them to make individual decisions which are not life threatening; it’s ok to make some mistakes they will learn. Allow them to stand up for themselves; it is all in the process of growing up.
If your son feels he does not have a six packs abdomen, please encourage him to eat right and exercise as well as learn to love himself. Talk to him about the demerits of steroid use for body building – it affects the heart, causes male menopause and could even lead to death. Remember, it is not just the girls that have a problem with self-image. Also, discuss alcohol, hard drugs and smoking with your children. Talk about body enhancements, the pros, and cons of breast augmentation, facelifts, tattoos and more. We need to start having conversations with our children; if you don’t have the time, pay a health/wellness coach to do so for you.
If your children show an interest in driving, please take them to a safe driving school at least by 14-15 years so that you don’t have a disaster in your hands. I notice the high number of very young children on the driving recklessly these days…need I say more. Teach your children spirituality, improve their hygiene levels, teach them etiquette help build their confidence. This advice is for boys and girls, it appears we are leaving our boys behind, please carry them along, the girls are so fiercely competitive that I worry for the boys and their egos. Remember to use this opportunity to take them to the hospital for a health check, to have their eyes, ears and teeth assessed
The physical changes are kind of easier to deal with unlike emotional changes, don’t worry, this too will blow off.
Young people develop their identity as an individual at puberty, and they start to figure out their standards and ideals, form their ideas, morals and values and rely less on their parents.
Don’t allow your neighbor, driver or housemaid teach your child about puberty or sex. Let’s not be too busy for these children. It is ok if you find your son or daughter trying to figure out what his penis is or what her vagina looks or smells like. Rather than scold or punish them, educate them on what they want to know. Even if you have to go online for the lectures, kindly do so.
Find out if your child is bullied at school or if he/she is the bully this is the age, unfortunately bullying is on another level – cyber bullying, social exclusion (everyone wants to feel among), different levels of violence. If your child who liked going to school suddenly does not feel like, find out why rather than scold, etc. let’s not make these children resentful. Have you seen the high rate of attempted suicide in our children ages 12 and above? Have you seen the violence? That is not our culture! What could have happened? These changes are certainly not from movies or peer pressure alone. Moms, we are no longer available for our children something has to give.
Please show compassion dear parents, let your child know that you are there to help and will not tease or ridicule. Adolescents are usually very aware of how their development compares to that of their friends and when it varies significantly from the norm this can be a source of high anxiety along with social and emotional struggles, so offer them all the support you can. I believe you know some teens develop faster than others and a few take their time.
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Wishing you good health and happiness,