How do we help our kids navigate puberty?

Puberty is a time of big changes in your preteen/early teen’s body and identity. For some kids, these changes can feel exciting. For others, they can feel awkward, scary, or confusing.

The best way to help your child through these tumultuous years is by talking about what’s going on. Open communication can make puberty less scary and help young teens understand that the changes they’re going through are totally normal.

If you’re the parent of a middle schooler, you know your child is beginning to want more independence. They may spend lots of time trying to be like their friends and classmates. They may also spend a lot of energy exploring how they’re unique and independent. But that doesn’t mean that your opinions and values don’t matter: They’re still looking to you for boundaries, guidance, and support, even if it doesn’t always seem like it.

Remember too that your actions matter just as much as your words. When it comes to body image, your child hears what you say about your own body and learns about food, exercise, and health from you. So think about how you can be a good role model when it comes to having a healthy body image.

Here are some body changes that go along with puberty:

Body changes: For girls, breast growth is usually the first sign of puberty. Girls first develop breast “buds,” or swelling and soreness around the nipples, then breasts will grow slowly over several years. Sometimes one breast grows faster than the other. For boys, an early sign of puberty is when the testicles start growing larger. Boys’ voices will get lower. For both girls and boys, this is the time that
pubic, underarm, and body hair starts developing, and you may notice growth spurts as well. 

Periods: You can prepare your daughter for her first period by helping her learn about the menstrual cycle and teaching her how to use pads, tampons, or menstrual cups. Give your daughter a few pads to keep in her backpack or locker so she doesn’t have to worry about what to do if her period starts unexpectedly.

Erections and ejaculation: As hormones change, boys start getting erections more often. It’s common for erections to happen at random times (spontaneous erections). Boys also generally begin producing semen between the ages of 12 and 16 and might have their first ejaculation during sleep (“wet dreams” or nocturnal emissions). Give him a heads up and let him know that they're normal. Otherwise, he may be embarrassed and not want to tell you.

Even though it might feel awkward or embarrassing, don't wait for your kids to come to you with questions about their changing body. They might not, especially if they don’t know that it's okay to ask you about this sensitive topic. Start the discussion: Kids are often relieved to have parents take the lead.

Above all, be reassuring. This time brings so many changes that it's easy for kids to feel insecure and alone. Let them know that everyone goes through these changes and that it's all part of growing up.

Mom and teen hugging