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Body Odor and Bad Breath: 6 Things to Tell Teens About Hygiene

Body Odor and Bad Breath: 6 Things to Tell Teens About Hygiene

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Updated on Jan 13, 2012

Puberty isn't a fun time for anyone, and sometimes it takes an archaic PSA on YouTube to jolt us back to those days of growth spurts and schoolboy crushes. The styles and trends are different, but the body issues haven't changed—acne, hair growth and overactive sweat glands are just some of the teen hygiene changes that most teens can look forward to experiencing.

The average girl goes through puberty between the ages of 11 and 14, while boys experience puberty from 12 to 15 or 16. As if dealing with homework, extracurricular activities and friends weren't stressful enough, these strange and often scary changes can mean rough times for your teenager. He might become sensitive about his appearance, making it hard to approach him about the subject. On the other hand, his body might be changing so quickly that he can't even change his hygiene routine fast enough to keep up with his "raging hormones."

Whether or not he likes it, you're the best person to talk to about these issues. You've probably experienced the same changes (after all, genetics plays a huge role) and have figured out how best to deal with them. Plus, you'll probably be the one that has to drive him to the store to buy his first deodorant or face wash. Here are some tips to keep the conversation as painless as possible:

  • Keep a humorous, frank attitude. Dive right into the conversation with straightforward facts, instead of beating around the bush. Staying confident and humorous about puberty will let your teen know that you're a reliable, open-minded resource for him. If it helps, think of yourself as a health teacher on the subject, suggests Diane DuBois, RN, a pediatric nurse at the St. Louis Children's Hospital Answer Line. Focus on the facts and remind him that everyone goes through these changes.
  • Start the conversation naturally. Instead of setting aside a specific time to talk, choose an occasion where you're both relaxed and having a nice time together. For instance, when you're watching television, you could bring up the topic of sweat when you see an Old Spice commercial. Or wait until you're alone in the car, where no one else can walk in and you're both undistracted.
  • Ease into it. Start with something less embarrassing and specific, such as the changes in his height or hair, rather than his entire body. No need to focus on his appearance, like the way he smells or looks, when you can mention the root cause. "Has your hair been oilier than usual?" is clearly less offensive than "I've noticed that you smell more."
  • Hit the store. Sometimes having an active, fun task to complete while talking can take away the awkwardness. Take your teen to the local drugstore to get the products he'll need to stay fresh. Allow him to choose basics he'll actually use on a daily basis, such as antiperspirant, shower gel, shampoo, and face wash, while explaining how to use each of the products. How embarrassing can it be if everyone around him needs to buy the same stuff?
  • Make hygiene accessible. Once you have the right products, give your teen time to use them each day. Make sure there's ample time to take a shower before school or bed. Offer gentle reminders by waking your teen up five minutes earlier than usual to let him know the shower is free.
  • Give your teen some privacy. Once you've done your part in educating your teen, giving him the right products and the time to use them, sit back and relax. While he might not always follow the routine you prefer, nagging him to take a shower or use antiperspirant usually doesn't solve the problem. Teens don't aim to smell or look unclean, so give him time to come around on his own terms.

In the end, all you can do is give your teen the tools for proper hygiene and lead by example. Most of the time, teens are motivated by their interest of the opposite sex, so you might just need to wait for that cute guy or girl in homeroom or an upcoming dance to do the rest of the work for you.

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