It seems as if it were just yesterday that you held your infant in your arms. Now you have a preteen on your hands—still a child, true, but one who may be about to embark on that section of road toward adulthood called puberty.
How can you help your son or daughter deal with this confusing and sometimes traumatic transition into sexual maturity?
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Puberty has its own timetable. It can begin as early as age eight or as late as the mid-teens. “The range of normal puberty is wide,” says the book Letting Go With Love and Confidence.
Puberty can bring insecurity. Adolescents can be highly sensitive about how they come across to others. “I became conscious of how I looked and acted,” recalls a young man named Jared.a “When I was around others, I’d wonder if they thought I was weird.” Self-confidence can plummet even further if acne develops. “I felt that my face was under attack!” recalls 17-year-old Kellie. “I remember crying and calling myself ugly.”
Early bloomers face special challenges. This is particularly true of girls, as they might be teased when they develop breasts or curves. “They’re also at risk of attracting the attention of older boys who are more apt to be sexually experienced,” says the book A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Years.
Puberty does not mean maturity. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a youth,” says Proverbs 22:15, footnote. Puberty does not change that. A young person may look grown-up, but that “tells you nothing about his ability to make intelligent decisions, behave responsibly, exercise self-control, or [display] other measures of maturity,” says the book You and Your Adolescent.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Talk about puberty before it starts. Let your child know what to expect, especially regarding menstruation (for girls) and nocturnal emissions (for boys). Different from the gradual changes of puberty, those events begin suddenly and can be confusing and even frightening. While discussing such matters, take a positive approach—that puberty initiates a beneficial makeover that paves the way for adulthood.—Bible principle: Psalm 139:14.
Be thorough. “When my parents gave me ‘the talk,’ they were evasive,” recalls a young man named John. “I wish they had been a bit more straightforward.” Alana, 17, feels similarly. “My mom helped me understand what was going on physically,” she says, “but I wish she had helped me cope better emotionally.” The lesson? As awkward as it may be, talk to your child about all aspects of puberty.—Bible principle: Acts 20:20.
Ask questions that invite conversation. To break the ice, talk about others’ experiences with puberty. For example, you could ask your daughter, “Have any of your classmates started talking about having periods yet?” “Do kids make fun of girls who develop early?” You could ask your son, “Do kids ridicule those who lag behind in physical development?” When adolescents start talking about how puberty affects others, it might be easier for them to open up about their own feelings and experiences. When they do, follow the Bible’s advice: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak.”—James 1:19.
Help your adolescent develop “practical wisdom and thinking ability.” (Proverbs 3:21) Puberty is not all about physical and emotional changes. During this stage your adolescent also develops reasoning skills that will help him or her make good decisions in adulthood. Take advantage of this opportunity to instill good values in your adolescent.—Bible principle: Hebrews 5:14.
Do not give up. Many young people seem reluctant to talk to their parents about puberty, but do not be fooled. “The adolescent who pretends to be uninterested, bored, disgusted, or stone deaf may be memorizing every word,” says the book You and Your Adolescent.
a Names in this article have been changed.