Puberty is often the most difficult – and exciting – time in a child’s life thus far. The changes they go through, both physically and emotionally, can often be confusing and most adolescents find themselves asking, “Is this normal?” Here are a few things to keep in mind when you decide to take the plunge and broach what can be a difficult topic...
- They want information. Over twenty years of teaching health and sex education have convinced me that kids of this age need and want lots of information about what’s happening to them. It's important to find a way to talk with your child about the changes that are, or soon will be, taking place in their bodies. Kids often have minute and detailed concerns about these changes. They need lots of reassurance that what’s happening to them is perfectly normal.
- Be there, and be empathetic. Not only are kids grateful when their needs for reassurance are met in this way, but they also develop a profound respect for and trust in the source of that reassurance. Parents need to realize what a powerful bond they can forge with their children if they will “be there” for them during puberty—not to mention how well the ensuing trust and respect will serve all concerned in later years when your children are making decisions about sex. If you’re there for your kids when they’re wondering, they’re more likely to come to you for advice when they’re deciding.
- Go with the flow. Avoid having an all-purpose talk prepared and rehearsed ahead of time. It won’t fit the bill, no matter how hard you try. In my experience, a more casual, spur-of-the-moment approach to talking to your child about puberty works better. Approach things casually, bringing up the topic from time to time when it seems natural to do so. Talking about puberty may not be the easiest thing to do, but it's important to try, no matter how awkward it feels. I should warn you that talking about puberty changes with your child may not be the easiest thing to do. Start things off by saying something along these lines: “You know, when I was about your age, I _______________________.” (Fill in the blank: “had my first period,” "noticed my first pubic hair," “had my first wet dream.”) “I felt really ____________________ ( “nervous,” “excited,” “proud,” ‘embarrassed,” “ afraid.”) “In fact what happened to me was that I __________________________.” (Again fill in the blank with a story about something from your own adolescence, the more embarrassing or stupid the story, the better.)
By using this approach, you make it easier for your kid to open up because by virtue of whatever embarrassing, dumb story you've told about yourself, you've let your kid know it's okay to be uncertain and less than all-knowingly perfect about the whole business.
So parent, start talking! Stop wishing your child would come to you for advice and start laying the foundation to make it possible. Sometimes you have to go out on a limb as a parent, and this is one of those times.
Regardless of how you decide to deal with the topics of puberty and sexuality, I hope that having these discussions will help you and your child gain a greater understanding of the process of puberty. But more than that, I hope it will bring the two of you closer together in the process.
Adapted from the What's Happening to My Body? Book for Girls and the What's Happening to My Body? Book for Boys (Newmarket Press, 2007). Reprinted with permission.