Puberty means sexual development
In this series of articles, I have described how extraordinary developmental changes in the adolescent brain explains much of the behavior that we see in these young kids. Parenting adolescents is challenging because their emotions shift without notice. It feels like you are chasing a moving object whose direction is unpredictable. But this is only part of the challenge for the parent of an adolescent. It is also during the early years of adolescence that the child’s body begins to mature so that one day he or she can conceive a baby. This maturation process is called puberty.
When is early puberty?
The early signs of puberty are usually observed when the child is 8-10 years old.
I understand that it is difficult to hear that your 9-year-old child is probably in early puberty but after talking to hundreds of parents I have become accustomed to a parent’s emotional response when I point this out. Sadly, no amount of determination on the part of the parent will derail this biological process, but there are certainly many ways that we can teach and support our children through it.
Brain orchestrates puberty
The path to sexual maturity is programmed into your child’s DNA and is orchestrated by the brain. In the beginning, the changes are silent. But soon you will notice that he/she seems a little different. Your daughter might express an interest in wearing a bra and mention that she feels something in her breast. What she is feeling are breast buds, one of the signs of early puberty. These early signs are not as obvious in a young boy. Although he probably will not mention it, there is a slight increase in the size of his testicles during this time and this is how your pediatrician might determine his developmental stage.
Who taught you about puberty?
How did you learn about puberty? Who prepared you for the changes that were coming? Being a guide and confidante for an adolescent from the early days of puberty until they reach sexual maturity is awkward and deeply personal. We have to look inside to understand how we feel about this task, but it is truly one of the most valuable gifts we can give our child. Even if we feel insecure about what to say and how to teach them, they will be forever grateful. Sadly, they probably will resist your efforts if you wait until they are past early puberty, but be strong. They might not say it now, but they are most likely relieved that you are there and want to guide them.
Suggestions for positive parenting
- Find a casual, relaxed time to begin this discussion with your 8-10-year old adolescent.
- It would be helpful to know what information they already know. Here are some questions you could ask:
- What have you learned at school about puberty?
- Have you noticed any changes in yourself recently? (This could include the way they feel about things if their emotions are changing or if they have noticed any changes in their body.)
- If you have a daughter, ask her if she has noticed tiny lumps in her breast or if her breasts are tender.
- Are there any questions that you have for me? Reassure your child that you want to be a great source of information as his or her questions come up.
- Would you like me to share some of my early puberty experiences with you?
Something to consider
Do you have a plan to teach your child about their changing body during puberty?
They will probably wait for you to initiate any discussions.