Puberty – It’s about the science!

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Many grown adults still cringe when they remember going through puberty; the cracking voice, the hair in unexpected places, the way our bodies are no longer the familiar places we’ve always lived.  At Alzein Pediatrics, we see kids going through these changes every day – and we often see parents struggle to answer their children’s questions with confidence and assurance When we look at puberty as just another stage of growing, just like when our babies gained muscle strength and coordination to walk, it’s much easier to have positive conversations and become a reliable, trusted resource to our children.

Puberty brings a series of quick and significant changes to the human body, and all those changes come with a certain amount of awkwardness. Adolescents might feel awkward about their bodies, their voices, and even their place in the world. The last thing a child going through puberty wants is an awkward conversation with parents about all that awkwardness. That a child feels awkward makes sense. Parents—who have gone through puberty and lived to tell the tale—can help relieve that  awkwardness and make this a much better experience for kids. After all, puberty isn’t awkward; it’s biology.

The first way to make puberty conversations less awkward is to get a handle on the science behind the changes. Doctors identify 5 stages of puberty. The unnoticeable first stage is when the body begins turning on and ramping up hormone production. For girls, this process can begin as early as 8 while boys begin as early as 9. In both cases, puberty tends to last around 5 years.

In the second stage, physical sex characteristics begin to develop. Your child will notice pubic hair, growing testes or budding breasts. Stage 3 will bring a height growth spurt along with more obvious physical sex characteristics. Stage 4 is considered a period of continued development, when females experience their first period and males develop a deep, mature voice. Acne may appear in both sexes. Stage 5 is full sexual maturity, when reproductive organs and genitals are fully developed and children have reached their full adult height. This usually happens about age 15 in both sexes, but can be earlier or later.

Research shows us that beyond sexual maturity, puberty plays a role in exceptional brain and other organ development. Parents can combat the awkwardness of puberty by connecting the child’s natural sexual development with other areas of human growth and maturation. Emphasize the blossoming of their ability to think abstractly, their increased strength and physical endurance, their ability to empathize with the wider world, their increasing sense of independence and their growing peer-groups. You can even mention increased kidney function if you want to be thorough! Puberty isn’t just about periods and muscle development; it’s an impactful and consequential period of a human’s development. Knowing this can ease the mind of a self-conscious child.

Once you’ve gotten a handle on the science behind puberty, share that science early and often. Talk about the human body and its changes as often as possible and appropriate. When you begin talking to your toddler about eyes, ears, elbows and toes, use medical names for genitals. This will help smooth the conversation when discussing changes during puberty. Let your child’s questions guide the conversation whenever possible. Most children just want a short, concise and clear answer, so there is no need for long, wandering explanations. Help your kids develop a language for talking responsibly and straightforwardly about their body and health. If you aren’t comfortable saying the words “menstruation” and “ejaculation,” your kids will be less comfortable asking questions about their own bodies.

The earlier you begin having open and direct conversations about the body, the less awkward it will be to discuss the changing body of puberty when it arises. Rethink the “birds and the bees” talk. From the time your child asks their first question about reproduction or sex, think of “the one big sex talk” as a series of truthful, short answers – and it will be so much easier to talk about changing bodies when the time comes.

Research shows that the onset of puberty in the U.S. is occurring earlier than previously. Lay the groundwork for destigmatizing the body and reproduction by talking with children about their body whenever the subject arises organically. Research proves that talking openly and honestly about puberty and preparing kids for those changes reduces anxiety and improves children’s attitudes during adolescence. When your child has a question, experts recommend you provide them your complete attention, listen to them fully, and respond to them with courtesy and respect.

There’s another benefit to clear communication during puberty. The National Institutes of Health note that adolescence is a time when bad health patterns can be broken and a lifetime of healthy behaviors can be established. Talking honestly and openly about your child’s changing body helps them appreciate that body and make better choices for their health throughout their life.

If you need help talking to your child about puberty, or exploring the science behind puberty, just send your Alzein Pediatrics provider a message through your portal. Taking care of every facet of your child’s health is what we are here for!

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