Puberty: A laundry list of changes worth talking about.

I just read a terrible article about puberty milestones. It bugged me so much that I’m not going to provide the link because I don’t want the site getting traffic on it.

The topics of import that the writer chose to focus on included the all important shaving, deodorant, waxing (since hair removal wasn’t adequately covered by shaving), wearing a bra, wearing make-up and visiting the Ob-Gyn.

Seriously?

Whether we have male or female children, this is a outrageously limited list when it comes to the real concerns young people (and their parents) face when entering adolescence.  It’s a confusing time.  There’s a lot going on above and beyond hair removal.anxiety & hair puberty

In this post I’m going to go over most of the puberty changes.  Specifically the ones that are common to all people.  (Stay tuned for another post that covers the more gendered differences – menstruation for females and nocturnal emissions for males.)

Let’s start with some of the physical changes:

Information on puberty changes tends to hone in on the sexual transformation of the human body but people grow all over during puberty and it’s a good idea to talk about that.
Height and width increase everywhere.  Our organs grow.  That’s news worth sharing.  Sometimes it starts at 9, sometimes this growing starts at 14.  Sometimes it happens quickly over a year or two and for others it’s a long slow 5 year burn. The outcome is the same – fully grown human.  Often it’s awkward and clumsy as people learn how to operate their new sized bodies.  Kids need to know about this variety and potential gracelessness so they don’t feel like aliens among their peer group.

It’s reasonable to call out breast development as a significant puberty milestone for females but bras are not a required garment.  Of course, many women wear them.  While I remember being quite keen to get a bra on my nearly flat chest, it’s important to share the information that bras are not the law.  Some girls might feel as though breasts are unwelcome – not every 12 year old is excited about a visit to Victoria’s Secret as suggested by the informative article that I read.  Pubescent girls can learn that it’s their choice.

And by the way, many young men will experience breast tenderness or lumps because of the (natural) estrogen that’s in their bodies (during puberty).  This is normal (and will go away) but can freak a male person out.  A head’s up can only be a good thing, I think.

fig 4 puberty-chartsWith hips, waists, shoulders, thighs and bottoms growing, weight gain is necessary.   In our weight-obsessed culture, we need to especially help young women understand that a certain amount of body fat is required for healthy pubescent development.  Menarche, or a girl’s first period, will not occur without approximately 17% body fat.  Talk about healthy eating, absolutely, but this is not the time for dieting.

Next up is the stuff that can cause discomfort or alarm for all of us.  I’m talking about body odour and oil. Our kids might not notice at first since the acne, greasy hair and stink may start up before some of the other physical changes occur. They can gently be told that how they care for their bodies needs to change. Mostly this is about soap and water. Help kids understand what’s going on and how to manage it.

Finally, there is hair.  While young men seldom stress about it, we can let them know where the hair will grow and what the options are for managing it that fit with our family values. While North American culture teaches women that any hair growing below the eyebrows is distasteful, we can message something different.  Perhaps something more balanced. Please.  Hair covers our bodies (that’s the case for all mammals). In some places it’s less obvious and the hair is light and fine.  During puberty the hair on our arms and legs usually gets darker.  Communicate how normal that is.  We all grow pubic hair and it’s generally not contained to a small little triangle.  That’s normal too. Women can choose whether or not to remove some of their body hair.  It is not required. I repeat: tell them that the hair that grows naturally on their bodies can stay there.

The emotional changes:

Young people often have unexplainable and really distracting crushes for the first time.  Crushes can be on a teacher, a friend, a friend’s parent, a celebrity – just about anyone.  Young people need support in navigating these new feelings.  Crushes on an older person or someone of the same gender doesn’t mean you’re gay or like ‘old people’.  Talk to them about what crushes can feel like and how liking someone isn’t always reciprocated, and frankly, doesn’t need to be.  Try to help them put the feelings into perspective and support disappointments (crushes crush people after all) or embarrassment as they occur.  Don’t belittle the feelings.  They’re real and are an important part of adolescent development.

Then there are the rollercoaster of emotions.  The sads, mads and glads – things can shift between these kinds of feelings in mere moments and it can be exhausting and disconcerting for the person experiencing the feelings and everyone around them.  I think my household will be particularly volatile with two boys going through puberty while their two moms experience peri-menopause!  Regardless of how many people are experiencing hormonally-induced emotions in your household, remind your kid that it’s normal.  Encourage things like healthy eating habits, exercise and enough sleep.  Keep talking to your kids during this emotional time even if they choose not to talk to you as much.

Some young people really struggle emotionally during this time so it’s important to assess whether your child is experiencing a level of instability or disenfranchisement that is dangerous to them.  If you think this might be the case, find support.

This transition from childhood to adulthood is big and information about puberty can reach our kids early so they know what’s coming.  Seems to me this kind of information better suits parents looking to raise healthy and happy kids more than advice on makeup use and waxing protocols.

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There are loads of good puberty books out there for kids.  Buying one or two of them so that they are resources for your kids is smart.  They’ll pick them up when they need the help.  Check my listed resources and look around since my list is the tip of the adolescent iceberg!

I was also on teevee talking about puberty.  In case you like the video learning option better…

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