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Helping Your Son Navigate Puberty

February 28, 2019

It’s a moment that both parents and sons dread: the “what is happening to my body” conversation. As your child enters puberty, you may wonder if he is prepared for the changes occurring, if he has questions, and how both you and he will adjust.

Changes During Puberty

Boys and girls both go through puberty a little bit earlier than in previous generations, probably due to environmental factors. Boys typically start into puberty between the ages of 9 and 14, with the process taking about 4 to 6 years. Most boys are considered fully men, at least physically, by the time they are 18 years old.

You may not know when puberty begins for your son. He’s not likely to tell you about the changes he is noticing in his body. One of the first signs is that his testicles become a little bit bigger. About a year after that change, his penis begins to grow, his scrotum thins out a bit and he has a little bit of pubic hair at the base of his penis. He may be embarrassed to tell you that he’s having nocturnal erections and ejaculations (wet dreams)—which is a normal part of development.

What you may notice, however, are some external changes. Within a year of those early changes in the sex organs, boys will develop underarm hair and body odor, and may begin to develop acne. Your son may have a growth spurt that shows up about 6 months after the appearance of pubic hair and body odor.

During the growth spurt, the extremities will grow first—you’ll notice your son rapidly growing out of his shoes. Growth in height will follow, with boys growing about 3 inches per year during this time. Your son may notice temporary swelling of the breasts—affectionately called “moobs,” which usually lasts less than six months. As your son nears the end of puberty, his larynx will grow. As it does, your son may notice temporary changes in his voice, commonly known as “cracking.” He also will develop an Adam’s apple, or a prominent bit of bony cartilage that wraps around the larynx.

In addition to physical changes, your son can expect some emotional changes, too. Body changes, social interactions and personal responsibilities can make puberty tough. Boys may experience moodiness, increased or decreased self-esteem, aggression and even depression. Even the “coolest” kids can have low self-esteem, so be aware and on the lookout.

Helping Your Son Through Puberty

Through all of these changes, it’s important to maintain an open dialogue and show your son unconditional love, while continuing to set limits and define expectations. As you parent your son through puberty, here are tips to guide you:Mother and son high-fiving

  • Let your son know the changes he’s experiencing are normal.
  • Make sure your child knows you are available to answer questions and that no questions are off limits.
  • Be human and admit to your own life experiences, worries and failures. 
  • Let your child know that his issues "make sense” and that you are there as a resource.
  • Try to be the first one to discuss body changes, urges such as sexuality, and social pressures such as drugs and alcohol with your son so he has accurate information to avoid mistakes. 
  • Your child should know that you are his best resource, while still being his parent. It is not your job to judge, but to love, support and limit when needed. 
  • Avoid TMI (too much information), and avoid interjecting yourself when your child is not ready. 
  • Provide appropriate reading material for your child. I always tell parents to go to a bookstore (yes, a few still exist), get a cup of coffee and sit in the aisle with the books for kids on puberty and read through a bunch looking for the one(s) that feel right for your family.  Ask if your child has questions.  Let him know that you are available whenever needed. 
  • Seek medical care or counseling if alarming physical or behavioral issues arise. If something does not seem right, ask. Chalking worrisome behaviors up to being a “normal growing boy” is a recipe for trouble.  If it seems not okay, step up and intervene. 

The most helpful tip is to be empathetic. Think back to what you felt like going through puberty, and remember that it may be natural, but it isn’t easy.

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