Calling all parents of tweens: Due to COVID-19, the usual puberty curriculum taught by elementary school teachers is now on your “to do” list.
When having these talks with your child, the most important thing you can do is use understandable language. When your child is just a toddler, I recommend using medically accurate terms when referring to body parts. “Wee wee,” “vajayjay,” or “Mr. Willy” are not medically accurate terms. Sex educator Lydia Bowers cuts to the chase: “Body parts are body parts are body parts. When we avoid saying words, we instill a sense of shame, of something to be avoided or hidden.” Furthermore, sex educator Melissa Carnagey points out, “Caregivers will use accurate terms for body parts like elbow, knee and nose, so parts like the penis, vagina and anus should be no different.”
Children benefit from knowing what’s going to happen to their bodies before it happens. Hence, the publication of books with titles such as What’s Happening to my Body? For Girls and For Boys. I recommend that Puberty 101 start by the time your child is 8 or 9 years old. Here’s your lesson plan so your kids know what to expect:
Introduction: Puberty is something that everyone goes through. It starts between ages 8 and 13 in girls and ages 9 and 15 in boys. A lot of growth takes place during puberty — so parents, keep the fridge stocked! How do we know when puberty starts? Although their brains are changing constantly, we consider puberty to begin when we see physical changes.
Ladies first. No, really, girls often start puberty before boys. The average age is 10 for girls and 11 for boys. The first sign in girls is usually breast development. A breast bud is a small lump that grows under the nipple, may start on one side, and may be sore. The next sign of puberty is pubic and underarm hair. Some girls choose to shave this area and need guidance. Here’s my advice on talking to your teen about removing unwanted hair. Next is height growth followed by weight gain, especially in the breasts and hips.
About two to three years after the onset of breast development, on average age 12, we can expect the arrival of the menstrual period. Making sure girls have menstrual pads on stand-by is always a good idea. Some girls may notice vaginal discharge about six to 12 months before their first period. In addition, during the first two years or so after the first menstrual period, the periods may be irregular. And we can’t forget menstrual cramps, which respond well to heating pads and such medicine as ibuprofen or naproxen.
Boy oh boy. Testicular growth is usually the first sign in boys. Next is pubic hair, followed by height and weight growth. Boys may notice wet dreams or nocturnal emissions. They may also have involuntary erections. Both are normal and signs that they are maturing.
Wait ... here’s more. About 80% of tweens and teens develop acne. But unlike other parts of puberty, acne has no purpose. Teens get acne because of the hormonal changes that come with puberty and because of stress. Skin is covered with tiny pores that contain glands. These glands produce an oil that moistens your hair and skin. Sometimes a pore gets clogged and you get acne.
Body odor (B.O.), on the other hand, at least has a legitimate purpose. B.O. results from sweating, which is the body's way of cooling down when overheated. During puberty, the increasing hormones alter the chemistry of the sweat, making it stink. Before puberty, children can skip a bath for one day and no one has to suffer. Tweens and teens, on the other hand, need to have a bath or shower every day or everyone suffers!
Now the birds and the bees. Children are exposed to sexual messages every day — on TV, on social media, in movies, in magazines, and in music — there’s really no avoiding it. If you have followed the “curriculum,” your tween or teen will most likely feel comfortable speaking with you about sexual identity, sexual attraction, sexual responsibility, and sex. Parents, I know you can do it — I’ve just promoted you to full professor.