Puberty... It's Closer Than You Think

Clues on Kids #006

That’s right, Mom and Dad.  Your darling little angel is inevitably going to go through puberty and never be the same again.  It is time to start talking to and educating your child now before it gets any more difficult.

But puberty is a teenage issue.  My seven-year-old isn’t ready to know about such things.

child in puberty shocking parents by asking about sex

On the contrary, puberty often starts BEFORE the ripe old age of thirteen, sometimes even as young as eight or nine.  Your children are more ready for this information than you think.  They are not only curious because they are exposed to sex and sexuality everyday at school and in the media, but it is also very normal for all youth to be curious about their bodies and how they work.  

My son isn’t curious about this stuff; he never even mentions it.  Why should I force this knowledge on him?

He may never mention it to you, but you can bet that he’s at least thought about it and probably talked about it with his friends.  Many prepubescent children become quite interested in how their bodies are going to transform into a teenager and begin to wonder how babies are really made.  If your kid hasn’t broached the subject with you yet, he might be too uncomfortable to address it with you.  Perhaps he senses your discomfort and wants to seek answers elsewhere so he won’t feel embarrassed or judged.

Good!  I don’t want her to know until she’s thirty!

While that’s a very common sentiment, it’s not very practical or fair to your child.  Besides, you don’t want to wait until she’s a teenager for this talk about the facts of life.  Try to imagine talking about sex to a thirteen-year-old.  Imagine it:  simply because she’s a teenager, she thinks you’re dumb and embarrassing and, “Eeeewwwwe!  What you’re talking about is totally gross!”  For you, the whole idea of the dreaded talk will be so daunting that it will more than likely just get skipped altogether.  You won’t mean for that to happen, but before you know it, another whole year passes while waiting for that just right moment.  Then consider who your kid is left to learn about puberty and sex… her idiotic friends whom you can’t stand and who don’t know diddly-poop about anything; or even worse… THE INTERNET!  Taking it to the next step, if you haven’t prepared your little girl for menstruation before her first period, your discomfort and avoidance of the subject could be creating a great deal of unnecessary fear and panic for her.  What’s worse?  A little awkward discomfort on your end or your daughter having nightmares at the thought of bleeding all over her new outfit in fourth period?

Well, my son doesn’t have periods.

You’re right.  Your son doesn’t have menstruation cycles… but he should learn about them.  Just like girls should be educated about erections and wet dreams.  Yes, you read it correctly.  These bodily functions are as normal as eating and sleeping.  It is important that kids understand both sides of puberty so they know that they are not alone going through these changes regardless of their gender.  

It is important for your son to comprehend the process of how he will transform into a man along with how girls develop into women.  If he’s not aware of the changes happening in girls, then you have only given him half of the answer to the all-important question, “How are babies made?”  Half of an answer to anything begs for those idiotic, inaccurate and uninformed conversations with his buddies.

So, while your son may not have Aunt Flow visit him every month, those wet dreams may make him feel very weird or somehow that his body is wrong or bad for having these unusual sensations if left uneducated.  A little nurturing and helpful guidance from you just might strengthen his self-esteem through this confusing time.  

But if I teach my kids about how babies are made and all the other stuff, they might start experimenting with sex and I definitely don’t want that!

A common misconception is that kids will start sexually experimenting with other children if you let them in on the big secret of how their bodies work.  Get ready for the big surprise… it generally creates the opposite effect.  Assuming that there is no history of abuse, often it is the mystery of the sexual feelings and sensations that drive children to play doctor.  Generally, when kids have a better understanding around the feelings they are having and the stronger feelings to come, they postpone experimentation until later on.  

Alright, well if I’m going to help my kid through puberty, how do I do it?

The easiest way is usually to look at a book together.  There are many books for children about puberty.  Why not go to your local brick & mortar bookstore (if you can find one) and find one or two that feel comfortable for you?  Here are a few suggestions to start with:

  • Robie H. Harris & Michael Emberley
    • It's Not the Stork!:  A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends (ages 4-8)
    • It's So Amazing!:  A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families (ages 7-10)
    • It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health (ages 10+)
  • Alastair Smith
    • How are Babies Made?
  • Valorie Lee Schaefer
    • The Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls 

Familiarize yourself with the book(s) you choose before sharing it with your child.

Wait a minute!  If I teach my child about sex and human reproduction, she will definitely start talking about it to her friends at school or on play dates.  What if other parents get mad and won’t let her play with their kids?

This is a common concern, but it should not get in your way of preparing your child to have a healthy understanding of sex.  You have no control of what other parents or kids will do.  The best you can do is to respectfully educate your child so she can navigate her world in a healthy way.  It’s worth repeating that kids are exposed to sexualized content on a daily basis from the media.  On top of that, your daughter is already overhearing and participating in conversations at school about sex… even when she doesn’t fully understand what it is that she’s talking about.  If she’s going to be exposed to these sorts of conversation, let her be armed not only with real knowledge, but more importantly let her be armed with the confidence that if she has questions or concerns, she can safely go to you for guidance around sex and sexuality.  That strong bond between you and your kid is so much more important than an occasional friendship lost because your kid is better educated on something that is natural and normal in human development.

How do I start approaching my kid about puberty and sex without scaring him?

If you’re already in the habit of reading with your child, you’re way ahead of the game.  Simply state that you got a new book that you think he’s really going to enjoy.  Try not to be too attached to his eagerness to learn this new information.  If you want it too much, you’ll put too much pressure on him and he’ll reject you and the book forever.  If he’s not ready for it, set it aside and read something else.  However, leave the book in his room.  You may be surprised to see him reading it when he thinks you’re not looking.  Don’t be afraid to revisit the book later on.  If he’s still apprehensive, give a simple reassurance that his nervousness is normal… and also a gentle reminder that his curiosity is also normal.  

When should I start talking to my kid about puberty and sex?

Most likely he’ll cue you.  It’s very common for a three or four-year-old to ask, “Where do babies come from?”  This is not the time to freeze and awkwardly dodge the question.  It is however, the PERFECT opportunity to start a mini-version of the conversation.  Think of it as good practice for you beginning at a basic level.  If you start the conversation at four years old, then over the years you can expand his knowledge little by little so by the time puberty hits, he will be prepared.  Explaining the birds & bees to a small child is much easier than to a teen because your little kid doesn’t have the baggage or embarrassment attached to the subject that teens and adults do.  If you approach it with comfort and ease, it will be as frightening as teaching your child how… bees pollinate flowers.  That’s why it’s called the birds & bees.  Because that’s how simple, natural and stress-free your approach to the subject should be.

Just remember to relax and have fun.  The less uptight and more fun this experience is, the more likely your child will feel comfortable looking to you for guidance regarding puberty and sex when it really counts.

(updated article from September 2008)

Remember that children are born to make mistakes... That’s how they learn.


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