Welcome to PART III of my teen/pre-teen boy series! (<— click on that for the introduction.) If you’re just jumping into the party, you might want to begin with the post, “What to Do Before Your Son Starts Puberty.” It really lays a foundation for the whole series.
But today we get to really dive in. With all of our clothes on. (because this stuff is awkward enough already.)
We know it’s healthy, and normal. We ought to welcome it. Even if it freaks us out a little bit.
(ok maybe a lot.)
I actually like this topic. Since I grew up with only brothers, and now have only sons (my dog is even a boy!) I think I am especially used to boy-topics. I also studied sports medicine in college and went on to get teaching credentials in health and PE, so this subject is basically right down my alley. But I understand the awkwardness that a lot of moms feel as their sons approach puberty. It is a combination of all of the unknowns and the general fear of losing what we know as normal and comfortable. (It’s also the body odor and grocery bills, but we’ll get to that. )
Yet the more we know about what we’re headed into, the easier it is to face. So today, I hope to lay things out on the table simply and clearly. To de-mystify puberty a little bit. And to encourage you to walk through it all with grace and dignity, and a healthy sense of humor.
But I also want to remind you that your role in your son’s life during these years can make all of the difference in the world. Mom, you are still relevant and important. This is not a time to check out, or be too busy to be involved. You have a high calling in this season, as much (or more) than all the others.
So let’s tackle puberty in TWO categories:
First: What is guaranteed. These are things that every boy will go through during puberty.
Second: What might happen during puberty. These things may or may not happen to your son, but better to be aware than caught off guard.
GUARANTEED TO HAPPEN WHEN YOUR SON HITS PUBERTY:
MOOD SWINGS: They may be mild, or they may be pronounced, but the hormone changes that a boy goes through in puberty will definitely affect his moods. Some kids are good at trying to hide this, (bless their hearts,) and some seem completely willing to take down the entire planet (beginning with their family) with their shifting moods. But just know: It’s normal.
What we can do: To some extent, we need to expect, and accept the mood swings of our pubescent sons. They’re not trying to be moody, and I’m pretty sure they would never choose it if given the chance. But at the same time we don’t want to coddle our boys. If we let them think it’s ok to sulk around, snap at siblings, or be disrespectful to their parents, we’re not doing them any favors. Setting some boundaries for their moods is my best recommendation. For example, “I can tell you are struggling with your mood. I get it, it’s hard. I’m here if you need to talk. Otherwise, I’d just like you to go outside and get some exercise, or read your book in your room until you feel ready to be a pleasant part of the family.” (Fair enough, right? ) The good news is, thanks to those hormones, it’s often only moments before that grumpy teen is bouncing back out of his room, with the silliness of his 8-year old self.
(In an honest moment, I’ve heard my own boys say: “What’s wrong with me? I was so grumpy ten minutes ago and now I’m totally fine!”) And thus: Welcome to puberty.
APPETITE: At some point during puberty your son will quadruple his food intake. (or at least close.) Some boys start this before they hit a growth spurt, some a little later. Just expect the hungry boys and be prepared with all of the food.
What we can do: A hungry teenager will go for the easiest, tastiest thing they can get their hands on. If you keep a stockpile of chips and junk food on hand, they can inhale them in mere moments. So I really recommend limiting the junk, and stocking up on hearty, healthy foods. The granola bars and fruit snacks of yesteryear will no longer satisfy, so forgetaboutit. Instead: When you can, make twice as much dinner as you used to, planning to have leftovers in the fridge available anytime. A teenage after school snack? A plate of spaghetti and a three pieces of garlic bread. A bedtime snack? That hunk of steak and a baked potato. Teenage boys can eat. Keep as many fruits and veggies on hand as you can and require them to eat it. Remind them that greasy food will contribute to acne big time, so be wise and steer clear. Also: Direct them to water instead of sugary drinks. It’s just better for them, and their skin will thank you too.
SLEEP: Boys in puberty will need extra sleep. They’re growing and developing and their body is busy.
What we can do: Help them establish a healthy sleep routine (don’t let them stay up on their phone late at night,) and encourage them to have a regular bedtime and wake-up time. But really, when you can: Just let them sleep.
PUBIC HAIR: It starts in different places for different boys, but it will come.
What can we do: Let them know it’s coming, in the most natural way possible. And please, for the love–don’t freak out when you notice the little curly surprises. No Facebook photos of armpit hair. Keeping it cool is the name of the game when it comes to puberty.
FACIAL HAIR: It starts mildly as “peach fuzz,” and grows to be thicker a bit later in puberty. But facial hair will come.
What we can do: Again: Keep it cool and normal. When the peach fuzz is getting obvious, give them a razor and teach them to use it. (Dad, help out here please!) A little fist bump/high five is fully appropriate here. Facial hair is a manly thing and is one of the less awkward parts of puberty, so you are allowed to acknowledge this one.
VOICE CHANGE: Once again, the timing varies from boy to boy, but your son’s voice will eventually crack, deepen, crack a hundred more times, deepen some more, and finally emerge as the voice of a man.
What we can do: Normalize normalize normalize. Don’t make fun of him, and don’t let anyone in the family make fun. Just keep moving and leave the poor kid alone.
GENITAL CHANGES. Is there any not-awkward way to say that their whole package (penis and testicles) will grow, and their penis will do unexpected and uncomfortable things. They will get spontaneous erections, and at times they won’t know what to do with themselves.
What we can do: Not much. As part of your talks about sex and puberty, you should have let them know that these things would happen. If not, then talk about it now. (Otherwise they’ll go searching for “What the heck is happening to my penis?” somewhere else, and trust me: You want to be the one to explain.) Let them know it’s normal. Let them know it will get better. (a little bit anyways.) And then try to completely ignore it.
BODY ODOR: Teenagers can really stink. The increased androgens in their body react in the blood and change the levels of body odor. This means they will stink more when they sweat: When they exercise. When they’re nervous. When they’re just sitting there.
What we can do: Require showers, with soap! (those twenty-minute showers in which somehow my kids forget completely about soap and shampoo? Not okay.) Buy them a Costco pack of deodorant and remind them to use it every day until they remember on their own. Suggestion: Do a deodorant check before they leave the house. Their classmates will thank you.
POSSIBLY WILL HAPPEN WHEN YOUR SON HITS PUBERTY:
ACNE: Many teenagers struggle with acne during puberty. Androgens are to blame for the changes in the oil content of their skin.
What we can do: Though there is a genetic element to acne during puberty, there are a few things that can certainly help: Teach your son to wash his face really well, and really often. Once a day isn’t enough. Morning, after exercise, and night is best. Also, a healthy diet will help tremendously. Greasy, fried food will contribute to acne, so let him know that if he wants clear skin it will make a big difference if he eats fruits and vegetables, stays away from greasy foods, and drinks LOTS of water!
I should add, if your son’s acne is seeming to not respond to healthy foods, water, and rest, I do suggest taking him to the pediatrician. Some people find medications to be super helpful, so it is worth talking to your doctor about!
SMALL LUMPS UNDER NIPPLES: About half of all boys get a small nodule under their nipple during puberty. This can totally freak them out (I’ll never forget when it happened to my brother because he was sure he was dying. But then again, he was always sure he was dying.) It’s really no big deal. It’s just part of development while hormones are changing. Also, sometimes a little bit of milky substance will come out of a boys nipples during this time. Especially if they are squeezed (which, leave it to a teenage boy…) Again, no big deal.
What we can do: If you notice this on your son, assure him it’s totally normal. (trust me, he’s wondering.) It will go away in a year or two. As for the milky substance: Assure him it’s no big deal. (And probably don’t call it “milky substance.” 🙂 “Fluid,” should work fine.
NOCTURNAL EMISSIONS: I don’t know if it’s more uncomfortable to use the scientific name or to just say “wet dreams,” but call it what you will: it happens. And honestly, this one probably belongs under the “guaranteed to happen” category, but I’ve read that some teens may never get them (or at least never admit to it,) so I’ll leave it here. When a teenage boy’s body goes into REM sleep, his penis becomes erect. He may have a sexually arousing dream, and ejaculate (release sperm from the penis) in his sleep. Remember, puberty is all about preparing the body for reproduction. These sexual dreams are quite normal. Your son may or may not remember the dream. (Don’t ask.)
What we can do: First, I highly recommend you include this topic as part of your talks early on in puberty so that he isn’t taken by surprise when it happens. Explain as simply as you can what will happen, and then give him a plan of action for when it does. An easy approach: “If you wake up and find a wet spot in your underwear or in your sheets, it’s no big deal. Just remove any clothes or sheets that have been soiled and put them in the laundry. If the washing machine is available when you get up, just throw your own load in there. If not just let me know you want to run a load. I won’t ask any questions, and you don’t need to explain a thing.” Done. No shame involved.
Well, the list could go on, but I think I covered the big changes to expect during puberty. Although these are some really big changes, they typically happen gradually so it’s not completely overwhelming. Just keep smiling and encouraging and you’ll all be heading in the right direction!
These years really can be a ton of fun!
We’ll tackle more teenage topics, like family life, social pressures, and dating in upcoming posts, so stay tuned!
Now I welcome your comments, follow-up questions, and personal stories (just don’t embarrass anyone) below! If you have special requests for the rest of this series, let me know. (I will dedicate one “Ask Monica” post to all things teen and pre-teen boy, so you can leave those questions here or email me at: [email protected])
People have asked about books we read/use, and I really hope to put together a little library of all of our favorites. But for now, here’s a few related to today’s subject:
The book we go through with our boys, ages 11-14: Facing the Facts: The Truth About Sex and You (God’s Design for Sex)
I recently got this book for my boys (so far it looks awesome!): Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations
A set that has come highly recommended: Passport2Purity (Book & CD Set)
**These are affiliate links. (This means I am an Amazon Affiliate and if you click through the links and purchase something, I will make a few cents commission. Your price does not change, Amazon simply rewards me for teaming up with them. Thanks!)