What is Puberty?

When your child starts to mature into a young man or woman, he or she will experience a period of varying physical and emotional changes. This is puberty, and it’s usually an awkward growing phase.

It is a period filled with anxieties and doubts. You as a parent play a vital role in preparing your child for these normal changes.

Open, honest communication about sexuality is a sure way of encouraging healthy, two-way conversations between you and your child, making puberty that much easier to go through.

Puberty happens when a child matures sexually. Usually at around the ages of 11-12 for girls, and 11-14 for boys, various bodily changes occur with the surge in hormones. Besides an increase in height and weight, a child will also develop hair under the arms and around the genitals, acne and even body odour.

  Boys Girls
Shape and size
  • Height and weight increase
  • Muscles bulge
  • Shoulders broaden
  • Height and weight increase
  • Hips broaded
  • Buttock and thigh areas thicken
Hair Growth
  • At the penis, armpit, face and chest areas
  • At the vulva and armpit areas
Acne & bodyodour
  • Skin becomes oilier 
  • Acne may occur
  • Perspiration increases and may cause body odour
Unique changes
  • Penis and testicles enlarge
  • Erections and ejaculations occur more frequently
  • Voices deepen
  • Breasts develop
  • Menstruation begins

What boys go through

With the surge in testosterone, the first noticeable physical change is when a boy’s testicles enlarge and pubic hair sprouts around his genitals, underarms and maybe above his upper lip. Soon after, his body shape changes as he becomes more muscular and his limbs start to lengthen. 

You may also notice that your son is perspiring more and beginning to smell. His voice will also start to break and deepen. As his sex organs develop, he will begin to experience erections, sometimes followed by an ejaculation where semen flows out from the penis. 

This can happen when he is asleep and having a wet dream. A wet dream occurs when he dreams of something exciting or sexual, or it can happen for no reason at all.

Talking to boys

Erections can be unpredictable during puberty and may or may not be sexually stimulated. A boy experiencing erections may feel embarrassed and think that everyone can notice although it’s unlikely. Tell your son that it’s perfectly normal to have erections and ejaculations (with wet dreams) during puberty. If it makes him feel better, let him change and wash his own bedsheets

Many boys are also conscious of his penis size and may start comparing it with other boys. You should assure him that penis size has nothing to do with his manliness or sexual functioning. And at a time when boys are conscious about how they appear to the opposite sex, stress on the importance of personal hygiene and grooming.

What girls go through

Sex hormones like progesterone and oestrogen bring about significant physical changes at puberty. Your child will start to notice her breasts are growing, her hips becoming wider and her body curvier. She will also start putting on weight. She may experience a break out of acne. And pubic hair will start to grow around her genital and underarms.

The most significant change is the start of menstruation. Before a girl gets her period, she is likely to notice a sticky, pale yellowish mucus in her underwear. This is perfectly normal and a sign that things are on course to puberty.

Talking to girls

It is important to talk to your daughter about menstruation before she actually gets her period. For a girl having her first ‘menses’, getting the first ‘bleed’ can be a terrifying experience. 

Start by telling her what to expect and that it is a normal and natural part of growing up. If it makes it easier, use an illustrated book to explain the reproductive and menstrual cycle. Then talk to her about using sanitary pads and maintaining personal hygiene. 

Teach her how to ease cramps, sore breasts and ‘bloaty-ness’ through diet and regular exercise. Exercising is also helpful because it is necessary for maintaining a healthy body weight.

Puberty is perfectly normal

Puberty does not happen overnight with the first period or ejaculation. It’s a stage of life that unfolds over several years.

It is important for you to note that along with the physical transformation are also various behaviourial and emotional changes. Children undergoing puberty are more conscious about how they look and where they fit in. 

They are certainly more interested in the opposite sex. They wonder about romantic love and sex. They crave for more independence and acceptance. 

Helping your child to understand the physical and emotional changes that he or she will be going through ahead of time will greatly allay any anxieties and confusion. 

Most of all, it makes it easier for your child to accept that the changes he or she is going through is normal. The support and guidance your child needs at this trying stage of growing up can only come from you.

Self-esteem during puberty

Your child as a teenager is like a chameleon, sensible and self-assured one moment, petulant and self-centered the next. All these emotional ups and downs can take a toll on a teenager’s self-esteem. 

As a parent, you need to nurture your child’s self-esteem because a teen who feels good about him or herself are more likely to make positive decisions in life – be it about school, friends, relationships or sex. 

Encourage your teen to appreciate values, strengths and abilities that are unique to him or her as an individual. Let your child take on responsibilities with regards to him- or herself and make decisions. 

Help your child to accept negative comments, setbacks or disappointments. Most of all, reassure your child that it’s all right to make mistakes and to simply learn from the experience.

Gaining acceptance the right way

During the teenage years, peer pressure is real and is a powerful influence. There can be pressure to dress or behave in a certain manner, pressure to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, pressure to have a sexual experience. 

Teenagers will usually put rationale aside and go all out to gain acceptance and approval from their friends. As parents, it’s easy to tell them "no" but it’s more effective to teach your teenager how to make a thoughtful and informed decision. 

Help by building the knowledge, skills and responses your teen needs to confront peer pressure . Use empathy – acknowledge how intense some of these feelings and expectations can be and tell your child about your own experiences. Describe possible scenarios and consider the outcomes.

Help him or her to realise the consequences of sexual decisions. Peer pressure is not easy to manage, especially for one so young. As a parent, you must help your child know that in pleasing others, he or she may end up letting him- or herself down.

Sex and your teenager

With puberty comes the awakening of sexual urges in teenagers. However, talking to your teenager about sex does not necessarily encourage him or her to experiment with it. This is the time to help your child learn the facts than half-truths and myths about sex from friends and other unreliable sources. 

While you shouldn’t assume that dating leads to sex, it’s important that you:

Talk about the difference between love and sex. Being "in love" does not equate to "making love". Love takes time and involves trust, respect and commitment. You can love someone and not have sex with him or her.

Set boundaries for physical intimacy e.g. holding hands or a peck on the cheek may be all right but petting can lead to sexual intercourse. Tell your teen how to say "no" to an unwanted touch.

Explain to your child why she or he is not mature enough for a relationship that involves sexual intercourse. Share your views on premarital sex and why one should save sex till after marriage.

Help your child to understand the importance of pregnancy prevention and the social, moral and ethical issues that can arise with an unwanted pregnancy that leads to an abortion.

Share with your teen the risks of contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS but avoid fear tactics.

Stress that abstinence from sexual intercourse is the most effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as sexually transmitted diseases.

Talk about sexual abuses such as rape and molest and that it can happen to anyone, boys and girls. If it happens, your child must know that the criminal act needs to be reported to a parent and the police.

Find your child’s self-esteem

Self-esteem is how we accept and value ourselves. A child with a healthy self-esteem is confident and capable of making positive, responsible choices in life.

It is during the early years of childhood, that your child will develop a sense of self. That is why it’s important parents start nurturing self-esteem while their children are young. Building a healthy self-esteem will make a difference especially in overcoming the trials and tribulations of growing up. 

A child who feels good about him or herself is more likely to make positive decisions in life – be it about school, friends, relationships or sex. 

Here are some ways to cultivate a positive sense of self in your child.

1. Be generous with praise 

It is often easy to scold children when they have done wrong. Children who are constantly told that they are "bad", "lazy" or "stupid" will soon believe that they can never be good enough. Instead, parents should emphasise that it is the child’s behaviour and not him or her that is unacceptable. Better yet, heap praise and appreciation on your child whenever he or she has done something good, no matter how small the deed. This will help to reinforce positive behavior and instil self-esteem.

2. Focus on your child’s strengths 

Help your child discover strengths and abilities. Encourage them to try new activities, stretch their abilities and then praise them for their efforts. Help your child accept his or her weaknesses and make a conscious effort to avoid comparing your child with other children. Instead explain that different people are good at doing different things and that he or she should be proud of his or her own unique abilities.

3. Encourage positive thinking

Help your child to keep a positive outlook especially when faced with challenges. Help him or her to accept negative comments, criticisms, setbacks or disappointments. Most of all, assure your child that it’s okay to make mistakes and to simply learn from the experience. Tell your child that what counts is not what other people think but what he or she thinks of him- or herself.

4. Encourage independence and decision-making

Letting your child take on responsibilities and make his or her own decisions is a sure way to build independence and confidence. Entrust simple tasks to your child and allow him or her to complete it by him- or herself. Be supportive and give practical help should he or she encounter problems or make the wrong decisions. 

Decision-making is a way for children to learn to accept responsibility. It is an important skill that needs to be learnt over time and will lay the foundation for your child’s growth.

In later years when your child has to make complex choices (including those on sexuality issues), good decision-making skills are crucial. So take every opportunity to let your child make his or her own decisions. Guide your child along, be accepting of his or her choices and help him or her understand the consequences that come with each decision.

5. Make time and give attention 

Invest the time to be with your children and make them feel that they are important to you. Ask about his or her day in school, friends or activities. Spend time together, play games, watch a movie or visit the museum. 

Giving your child your undivided attention, no matter how brief, will make him or her feel special and loved.   

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