Talking to your growing son about puberty is, at the best of times, a daunting prospect. In the days of yore, it was left to dads to administer the talk about ‘the birds and bees’ as their sons reached the threshold of manhood. Not so for today’s kids, growing up in an age of dissolving gender stereotypes. Fathers supporting daughters through their periods and moms chipping in with dads to address their sons’ puberty issues is the order of the day. A bit awkward sometimes, certainly, but it’s the need of the changing times. Here are some tips from professionals and experienced parents to ease the process:
Living as we are, in an era of media proliferation and ready access to multiple sources of ‘information’, your growing son is exposed to a lot more at a much earlier age than you were. It is, thus, a good idea to start with casual references to topics like growing up, changes in the body, etc. at an early age, say, about 8 to 10 years, when your child still comes to you for answers instead of relying on ‘outside sources’, and when you can still talk to him without it getting really awkward. Once he has hit puberty without a single reference to it from you, he might find it impossible to overcome the awkwardness and talk to you about his confusions, and shut you out if you try.
Be Honest and Matter-of-Fact
‘Honesty is the best policy’ might be an age-old cliché, but it totally works here. Kids appreciate parents who are upfront with them and are more likely to trust their word. Also, it is important to make your son feel comfortable during these talks. Make sure you neither blush nor laugh at the questions you are asked. If your son senses your discomfort or gets the feeling that his questions are stupid, a door closes in his mind. Equally important, if you can't answer his questions in a simple way that he can understand, he will try to find the answers elsewhere, which is probably not what you want him doing!
Perhaps the toughest call here is the need for an exclusive father-son talk on masturbation. This is one area moms cannot help. It’s entirely up to dads, and it is something that cannot be avoided!
No Euphemisms—Go into Specific Details
A friend tells about her ten-year-old son who watched a ‘bad’ movie (riddled with analogies and euphemisms) on puberty and came away with ONE learning—that he needs deodorant—NOW!
So, please avoid figures of speech to camouflage your discomfort. Say it out clearly—in words of one syllable—so that he cannot possibly misunderstand. Let him know that physical changes are coming; that he is about to grow hair all over, especially in places he wouldn't necessarily expect. Tell him how his voice is going to crack, but will eventually deepen. Also, prepare him that the enemy—namely, girls—will start to seem interesting and that it’s OK. It happens to everyone!
Your growing son has similar concerns as your young daughter—only instead of periods and curves, the areas of insecurity are height and muscle, facial hair and voice. He is going through a time when he is confused between feeling like a child and wanting to act like an adult. It is likely to make him moody, and often, seemingly impossible to handle. Here’s where you, as a parent, need to reassure him constantly, like an understanding friend. Let him know that these changes are the start of the transition to manhood—something all men go through and that he will gradually become much more comfortable, both physically and emotionally. You also need to make him understand that everyone grows at different speeds and that different body types produce different looks, to avoid agonizing comparisons and help him be ‘comfortable in his own skin’.
For a growing boy, the pressure to look and act 'manly' is constant and tough. It can often lead to a rejection of his own emotions and sensitivity, to blindly follow stereotypical ‘he-man’ role models. In this day and age, it is imperative to convey to him a sense that men can be—and ought to be— sensitive.
As a parent, you need to explain to your son that puberty ultimately leads to more muscle and more testosterone and that these two things will not only make him stronger but also more aggressive. As a boy prepares for manhood, he needs to understand that with that new found strength comes to a responsibility to treat all women gently, and with courtesy and respect.
Provide Other Sources of Information
Children today tend to go to Google before they come to mom or dad for answers, and there are websites out there you don’t want him visiting, especially for answers to his puberty related queries. One way to avoid this is pre-emption. Find some good books or some good informative websites that answer any questions he may have. In other words, provide him with information he can access in his own time.
Remember, your approach to your son’s formative years will lay the foundation for raising a mature, responsible and balanced young man!