Going through puberty: changes summarized
Recommended age: 8-9 years old. Even if for most adolescents development will start a bit later, for someone the first changes could start as soon as they are 8 or 9 years old. Be aware of opportunities to talk about puberty-related topics as they may pop up naturally in day-to-day life, but don’t wait for that to happen.
Puberty is a turning point in adolescence because it is associated with various physical, psychological, and social changes. It can be challenging for all these aspects, but not knowing what is happening to one’s body and not having someone to rely on and ask questions to may be even more disorienting. Talking to children about anything related to sexuality and sexual development may feel uncomfortable for someone.
Here are some tips to have these conversations:
1. Asking questions that might ignite further conversation
Avoid formal speeches, like “bird and bees” or animal kingdom references, like “see our dog has periods, you could have periods too in a short time”. Keep it casual. For example, ask them what they think of a certain deodorant as you pass them in the supermarket using the opportunity to start a conversation about hygiene and body odour changes. The same could be done with razors to explain the beard or body hair.
2. Manage your embarrassment
Try and put your embarrassment to one side and make it clear that it is okay to talk about puberty and the changes they are going through. Make sure your kids know that these changes are normal and that they can ask you anything and you will answer as best you can.
3. Use actual body part language for genitals.
Even if in children or some younger adolescents naming the body parts may elicit fun and giggling, using the appropriate names will take away some awkwardness and will make clear what is what and what is happening to that. Using phrases like “down there” may be too generic. Remember that for girls, the genital area around the vagina is called the vulva. For boys, there’s the penis and the testicles.
4. Keep things short when talking to younger children.
Younger children (8-9) may have a shorter attention span, so keep it simple. Instead of putting everything in “one talk”, use simpler and coincided talks or activities like watching the above video. Additionally, it is a good idea to use simpler language, for example talking about the exact functioning of hormones and neurotransmitters may be too hard, mentioning that hormones (which can be explained as little messengers, as if they were humans) are the cause of the changes is enough.
5. No need to keep conversations with boys and girls separate or to give only “sex of birth-related” information
Males do need to know that females go through puberty as well, and what some of their changes will be and the contrary is also true. This encourages kids to be more attentive and delicate about what others might be experiencing, without ending up making fun of them. For example, explaining to boys that females may start bleeding once a month as part of growing up may help them to not make fun of a girl who finds herself with some blood on the clothes. The same is true if boys start experiencing unwanted erections and girls learn to not be embarrassed and react with fun to them.
Mirzaee, F., Pouredalati, M., Ahmadi, A., & Ghazaznfarpour, M. (2021). Barriers to Puberty Talk between Mothers and Daughters: A Qualitative Study. Revista brasileira de ginecologia e obstetricia : revista da Federacao Brasileira das Sociedades de Ginecologia e Obstetricia, 43(5), 362–367. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0041-1729148
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