By: Steve Palmer
Are you old enough to remember that old “Brady Bunch” episode where Peter’s voice started to crack – just in time for the family to be recording a song about the changes that happen in life? I only saw this in re-runs, of course, but it feels like a pop culture iconic moment. In the television show, Peter was just getting into that stage we all must eventually go through – puberty.For a blast from the past, check out the video below!
Us grown-up males oftentimes groan upon recalling a time when our voices started cracking and our bodies and thoughts started changing--a lot. I think puberty gets a bad rap in our culture. Even more than the so-called “terrible twos,” adolescence can be feared by parents and seen as a time that is best when it’s behind us.
I think that’s a mistake. I want to call on all parents and kids to revel in the excitement, development, and opportunities that the time of puberty brings our way! Puberty is a time of intense and rapid growth on all fronts – body, mind, and spirit. Everything gets going, seemingly overnight sometimes, and our little boys start becoming the men they will one day be. It can be a bit awkward in between, but it is also an amazing time to witness – and a really important time to stay involved as parents and caregivers.
Here are My 6 Golden Rules for Dealing with Boys and Puberty:
1. Be okay with change – lots of change. Growing pains, eating much more than usual, becoming interested in sex, finding hair growing in new places, losing interest in childhood pursuits, gaining new interests, starting to disagree more, becoming less interested in spending time with mom or dad, becoming concerned about peer opinions in terms of clothes, activities, appearance, erections at awkward and unpredictable times, acne, the list goes on.
2. "Normalize" Puberty. In my practice as a therapist, one of the things I do most often is what we call “normalizing.” I reassure a lot of people that what their kid or family is experiencing fits inside the scope of acceptable and okay – “normal.” Boys will be undergoing big hormonal shifts that cause their bodies and minds to become adult. It’s important for both them and you to recognize how normal it is to have many new experiences. Normalizing puberty can relieve a lot of unnecessary anxiety!
3. Everybody’s different and everybody’s the same. Learn what to expect. While everyone will eventually go through puberty, it can happen on so many different timelines. Puberty can set in as early as 10 or as late as age 12. Whenever it does begin, taking some time to review the typical changes during this stage can help you and your child know what’s coming.
[Related: What to Expect: Ages 10-14]
[Related: What to Expect Ages 15-18]
There are some more references at the end of this article I have found helpful, and many more can be found by talking with your pediatrician or school guidance counselor.
4. It’s not just about sex. Well… Let’s face it – the changes taking place in puberty are nature’s way of preparing our little people to be big people – and eventually to be parents themselves. This does mean sex! Many of the changes taking place in boys’ bodies are about them becoming ready to father children of their own. It can be a challenge for parents to realize their little boy is developing sexually, but it’s important to accept it in order to make sure they get the support and guidance they need.
[Related: What If My Teen is Sexually Active?]
Of course, there are many other aspects of adult life our boys are growing toward. Brain development during adolescence is a fascinating area of study – one of the best resources I’ve found on this is David Walsh’s book Why Do They Act That Way. Walsh gives very readable explanations of the amazingly busy brain during this time of life, along with great guidance about what this means in terms of understanding – and dealing with – adolescent behaviors.
5. Our kids still need us – even if they don’t think so sometimes! Don’t stop being an involved parent! If anything, our kids need us more during this time, even as they do the appropriate work of establishing their independence and focusing on their peer relationships.
6. They’ll learn it from somewhere – shouldn’t it be from you?Keep the conversations going. From all the sex stuff to relationships to responsibility to drugs to driving to school to first jobs to politics – there is so much to learn as we grow up. Our kids are hearing about, thinking about, and probably beginning to experience things we won’t know about immediately. That’s pretty normal and okay – but it’s so important that we continue to share our values and encourage our kids to reflect on consequences of actions. Frankly, this is a great time to deepen a sense of friendship with our kids. Don’t be afraid to bring up these “big things” – our kids have probably already started thinking about them anyway.
So relax, but proceed with caution!
While much of the change and “turmoil” of this time is completely developmentally normal, it is also important to recognize the signs of trouble that might require some outside help. Anxiety, depression, concerns about sexuality, and other behavioral health concerns can make their appearance during these years. In general, I suggest that we all need to pay attention – watch for patterns or unusually difficult moods that don’t seem to improve. Most kids will have mood swings, and many boys will demonstrate more anger or irritability during this time, but if we notice a drastic personality change or if we notice our kids pulling away from both family and friends, or if we notice them avoiding school or other activities, or if we notice them cycling through extreme highs and lows, and if the pattern of conflict with parents or authority figures (like teachers) seems to be getting worse all the time, it never hurts to consult with your family doctor, pediatrician, or a mental health professional.
Don’t try to just sort it out on your own – get some support. Early intervention can make a big difference for a kid dealing with mental health challenges. There are some great resources on the web that can help you begin to think these issues through. I have some listed below.
All in all, puberty is an exciting and important time for everyone involved, so get involved, get support – and enjoy it!Do you have a daughter? Check back in on the ParentFurther Blog this week for Vicki Bohling's 3 Golden Rules for Dealing with Girls and Puberty! _________________________________________________________________________
Resources and Further Reading
1. Walsh, David. (2005). Why Do They Act that Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen. New York: Free Press.
2. “Mental Health and Teens: Watch for Danger Signs.” HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics.
3. Scheve, Tom. “How male puberty works.” From the website How Stuff Works.
4. “Teen Mental Health.” Medline Plus.
5. “Teens and Mental Health.” American Psychiatric Association. (A great and trusted resource for mental health information on a wide range of concerns regarding teen behavior and potential challenges – with information about diagnosis and treatment.)
6. WebMD. “The Facts about Puberty (for Guys).”