Although puberty starts anywhere from age 9 to 16, every teen will eventually experience the hormonal changes and subsequent body changes. That being said, the subject of puberty is still “awkward” for some parents and most of the time it’s a subject children are seldom interested in discussing, either.
However, a discussion of puberty is not only necessary for both parent and child, it’s also one of the most important talks a parent will have with their child. So many of my patients, around 9 to 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. I know they hear things from their friends, and many schools have puberty “talks” around fifth or even sixth grade, but that’s often too late.
The biggest concern I have is misinformation. If a parent doesn’t initiate a basic “birds and bees” discussion, their child may hear all sorts of crazy things about sex. With all of the Internet availability, as well, I worry that a child might search on his/her own and go to websites with “too much information” for a first discussion about puberty.
The facts of life and the male and female anatomy have not changed! I think it’s every parent’s responsibility to find an appropriate time to sit down with their child and discuss puberty. (I jokingly tell my young patients that when a child is born, the parents receive a contract stating: WE HAVE TO HAVE THE TALK.) This is often primarily an anatomy lesson with some details thrown in on the biology of the human body.
If a child has never asked about the difference between males and females – most already have by this point – that’s a good place to start. Many times, questions will arise that lead to further discussion on such topics as sexuality.
Every parent knows their own child and may approach the “facts of life” discussion in their own way. There are lots of good books to help facilitate the discussion and serve as resources for kids. I remember my own mother pulling out a World Book encyclopedia with color transparencies of the human body. 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 helping them learn.
Lastly, it usually takes more than one discussion to cover all the pertinent topics, and different topics are more appropriate to discuss at different ages. Don’t stop the conversation. Make sure you let your children know that nothing is off limits, and if they have questions or concerns, they should ask.
Dr. Sue Hubbard is a pediatrician and co-host of “The Kid’s Doctor” radio show. Learn more at her website, kidsdr.com.