Puberty. The very word can strike fear into the heart of even the bravest mom and dad. Plagued by their own memories of stumbling from childhood into adolescence, many parents experience a “mental block” and feel unprepared and inadequate when it comes to explaining the mysterious “body morph” that begins during the preteen years. Here’s the good news: Helping your son navigate his way through puberty doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, God can use you to guide the way, normalize the experience and ease your son’s anxiety. When it comes to sexuality, knowledge is the key to reducing stress and smoothing the sometimes-rocky path into adolescence. Accurate information, presented calmly and confidently, can reduce a boy’s fears and reassure him that the changes he is witnessing in his body (and in the bodies of the guys in the locker room) are normal and natural. The best way for that to happen is for moms and dads to educate themselves about the basics of puberty, including (gasp!) male anatomy and physiology. This is a critical time in your son’s development, so it’s important to address it in a clear and unashamed manner. Too many parents choose simply to avoid the issue altogether, leaving their kids to flounder. Don’t be that parent. If you don’t provide your son with accurate information about his budding sexuality, the media, the internet and his (sometimes misguided) friends will fill the void. It’s anybody’s guess as to what kind of information he will receive from those sources!
Start the conversation
As awkward as it may feel for both of you, it’s important to discuss this phase of your son’s life with him. And not just once. It needs to be multiple conversations with plenty of opportunities for questions along the way. I find that most parents want to dialogue but don’t know how to start. Why not begin with something like:
Son, you know how much I love you. As your dad (or mom), one of the responsibilities God has given me is to prepare you for the future. In the next few years, you’re going to see some amazing changes in your body and in your friends’ bodies. These changes are normal and natural, and your heavenly Father has specially designed them just for boys. He loves you, He created every cell in your body and He knows you even better than you know yourself! That sets up the conversation to be positive and natural.
Explain his body’s changes
When you have your conversation, explain what changes are coming to your son’s body. Let him know that sometime between the ages of 11 to 15, boys go through a time called puberty. It’s a funny-sounding word that basically describes what happens when a kid’s body changes into the body of a young adult. A gland in our brain called the pituitary causes these changes. It sends signals to the other parts of our body, and a special chemical (or hormone) called testosterone will be released into your son’s bloodstream. During this time, your son’s bones will grow longer and his muscles will become bigger and stronger (how cool is that!). Hair will begin to grow on his face, under his arms, and on other parts of his body. The pitch of his voice will grow lower, and his sexual organs will begin to look and function like those of a grown man. For some boys these changes happen around the age of 11 or 12; for other boys they occur when they’re older. The exact timing is different for each person, and it’s based on the genes they inherited from you and the other parent. Some boys feel embarrassed if they start puberty very early or very late, so it’s important to reassure your son that if that happens to him, he doesn’t need to worry because eventually every guy will go through the same changes.
Discuss his emotional changes
During puberty your son will also begin to experience different feelings. At times he may feel more energetic, and at other times he may feel more tired. Some kids will experience mood swings, feeling happy one day and sad the next. If you give him permission to understand that those feelings are natural, he’ll know that it’s part of the growing-up process. Let him know that in addition to those feelings, he’ll also begin to think and feel differently about girls. He’ll start to notice them more and pay more attention to the way they look. You can tell him, “The girls at your school go through puberty, too, but their bodies change much earlier than the boys’. It may seem a little strange when you notice that many of the girls your age are taller than the boys and that their bodies are beginning to take the shape of a woman’s body, but remember that’s also part of God’s wonderful design.”
It’s important to remember that one conversation is just the beginning and your son may have questions that come up several times during the adolescent years. Reassure him that you are available and willing to talk about all of his questions—from puberty, to his body, to girls and yes, even to sex. Tell him, “I want you to know that you can feel free to ask us anything about these things. You never need to feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk to us.” You may not be able to answer all of his questions immediately, but the good news is that many Christian professionals have studied and written about this life phase, and you and your son can find the answers together.