Puberty: A Parents Survival Guide

Ahhh… puberty. The inevitable time in our lives where our emotions are like roller coasters, our body is sprouting hair in all kinds of places, and the confusing time where one minute we demand independence whereas the next we are enjoying cuddles with our parents.

When does puberty begin? On average, girls start puberty earlier than boys — between ages 8 and 14, with the average age being 11. 

Boys tend to start showing signs of puberty about a year later than girls — between ages 9 and 15, with the average age being 12.

Think back on your own teen years. Remember your struggles with acne or your embarrassment at developing early — or late. Expect some mood changes in your typically sunny child, and be prepared for more conflict as he or she matures as an individual. Parents who know what’s coming can cope with it better. And the more you know, the better you can prepare.

    Share memories of your own adolescence. There’s nothing like knowing that mom or dad went through it, too, to put kids more at ease.

Talk to kids early and often. Today’s youth have access to a lot more than the basic “birds and bees” information. It’s important to bring this up with kids before they see it.

Consider starting the conversation with your child before he or she starts learning about it at school or from social media.

But don’t overload them with information — just answer their questions. If you don’t know the answers, get them from someone who does, like a trusted friend or your pediatrician.

You know your kids. You can hear when your child’s starting to tell jokes about sex or when attention to personal appearance is increasing. This is a good time to jump in with your own questions such as:

    Are you noticing any changes in your body?
    Are you having any strange feelings?
    Are you sad sometimes and don’t know why?

A yearly physical exam is a great time to talk about this. A doctor can tell your preadolescent — and you — what to expect in the next few years. An exam can be a jumping-off point for a good parent/child discussion. The later you wait to have these talks, the more likely your child will be to form misconceptions or become embarrassed about or afraid of physical and emotional changes.

And the earlier you open the lines of communication, the better your chances of keeping them open through the teen years.

Give your child books on puberty written for kids going through it.
From It’s NOT the Stork for preschoolers by Robie H. Harris (Candlewick Press, August 2006) to The Teenage Body Book for teens by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman (Penguin Random House, August 2016), there are helpful books to read with your child no matter what age you decide to introduce him or her to conversations about puberty and hormones. There are also excellent resources online for teens, such as the Center for Young Men’s Health and the Center for Young Women’s Health.

Put yourself in your child’s place. Practice empathy by helping your child understand that it’s normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious, and that it’s OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a kid the next.

Pick your battles. If teenagers want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Teens want to shock their parents and it’s a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; save your objections for things that really matter, like tobacco, drugs or alcohol or permanent changes to their appearance.
Ask why your teen wants to dress or look a certain way and try to understand how your teen is feeling. You also might want to discuss how others might perceive them if they look different — help your teen understand how he or she might be viewed.
Share memories of your own adolescence. There’s nothing like knowing that mom or dad went through it, too, to put kids more at ease.