Teaching Kids About Puberty

By Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell
"You're getting so big, let's have a talk."

Few parents are eager to talk to their child about puberty and its many ramifications, including awakened sexual awareness. Nonetheless, it's in the best interest of your child to take a proactive stance when it comes to such an important and sensitive topic, rather than leaving it up to the TV, Internet, peers and other potentially unreliable sources.

Time is of the Essence

Don't hem, haw and hope that your child will come to you with questions about puberty. Kids as young as 8 years of age should be informed about the changes that will occur during puberty, advises KidsHealth, a website published by the Nemours Foundation. It might be only a few years before boys notice their voices deepening and girls start wearing training bras. Both sexes will be prone to blemishes as their skin becomes oilier and they will start to grow pubic, underarm and thicker leg hair.

What's Happening To Me?

Put your child's mind at rest by reassuring her that the physical and emotional changes that occur during puberty are a normal part of growing up. Tell your child that she's not alone during this often confusing and overwhelming stage of development because her peers will go through the same process -- sometimes a little earlier or later. Talk to your child as candidly as possible about what kind of changes to expect during puberty.

Girl Talk

Some early bloomers get their period by age 9 while others don't start menstruating until age 16. Girls typically girls get their first period between 12 and 13 years of age. Calmly tell her that she may become moody or irritable in the days leading up to menstruation. Early breast development becomes apparent when your daughter notices small, tender lumps under the nipples, according to HealthyChildren.org, a website published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Girls also become curvier, particularly in the hips and thighs.

Boy Oh Boy

Boys, on average, begin puberty slightly later than girls -- usually around ages 10 or 11. Boys eventually get hair on their faces and chests, their penises and testicles become larger, and they grow taller and more muscular. Let your son know that he might have wet dreams, which means he releases sperm while sleeping.

Oh What A Feeling!

Sex hormones produced during puberty -- such as testosterone in boys and estrogen in girls -- often lead to sexual feelings, points out the Women's Health and Children's Network. Explain to your child that it's normal to feel aroused when he explores the genital area. A girl might get a warm feeling when she touches her breasts or nipples. Sexual feelings can lead to physical attraction toward a peer or classmate, which can make that special someone appear irresistible.

More Parents Need to Step Up

A study published in the January-March 2003 edition of the "International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health" suggests that parents fall short when it comes to teaching their kids about puberty and its associated sexuality. A survey of 409 adolescents and 124 parents found that more than 14 percent of teens -- nearly 37 percent of males and 2 percent of females -- report that no one brought up the subject of puberty before its onset.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.