Talking to your son about puberty and the various changes that come with it can be challenging. Embarrassment, awkwardness, fear, or even feelings of inadequacy may make you dread having to broach the subject with your son. Whatever your struggle may be, know that you’re not alone.
However, research has shown that it is important to educate our children on puberty in a thorough and timely manner because it allows them to make well-informed decisions regarding their sexuality and prevent problems that result from inadequate and late sexuality education. As a father, you’re in the best position to affirm your son and build his confidence during this confusing transition from boyhood to manhood.
Preparing for puberty
Puberty for boys typically starts around 12 years old, but it is also not uncommon for some boys to start puberty as early as 10 years old.
Starting the conversations about puberty early can help your son feel more prepared for it as he will be able to anticipate the changes instead of being caught by surprise and feeling uncomfortable or even scared by them. Reassure him that every boy goes through puberty at different times so even if he starts puberty early or late, he does not need to worry.
If your son has an older sister, this is also a good age to talk to your son about the changes that girls go through if he starts to notice these changes and is showing curiosity about them. Emphasise that girls’ and boys’ bodies are different, and we should be respectful and sensitive towards the opposite sex.
Changes to expect at puberty
Approaching the topic by presenting accurate information in a calm and confident manner is one way to reduce your son’s fear of the unknown. Let him know that puberty is a normal process into manhood, and that the changes while sometimes awkward and embarrassing, are preparing him to start his own family one day.
The physical changes you may want to cover during this time can include growth in height, weight, muscle mass, genitals (scrotum and testicles, and then his penis growing larger); hair growth (on his face, armpits, and pubic areas); and a deepening of his voice.
Use this time to teach him to take care of his personal hygiene – how to use face wash, pimple cream, and deodorant as well as how to shave.
Your son may feel self-conscious about his body and may compare himself with his friends (maybe in terms of body image or genital size). Reassure him that everyone is different and that there is no one right way to look or behave as a young man. Emphasise values that are desirable traits as well, such as kindness, integrity, and respect for others.
You may also want to use this time to teach him how to eat healthily as his appetite grows as well as proper exercise regimes.
Talk to your son about the occurrence of things like erections and wet dreams, reassuring him that it is perfectly normal if they happen and perfectly normal if they don’t. This will ensure he doesn’t get caught off guard.
It is also helpful if you could share personal tips on how to handle potentially awkward situations, such as getting an erection in the middle of class. Explain that sometimes it happens when the bladder is full, or when he feels emotionally moved or stimulated. Such incidents need not be sexual in nature.
It’s important to note that one conversation is just the beginning – there needs to be multiple conversations with plenty of opportunities for him to ask questions throughout your son’s journey with puberty. Reassure him that you are available and willing to discuss all the questions he may have about puberty, his body, girls and sex.
This is also a good age to talk to your son about masturbation and pornography, which tend to come together. The likelihood of your son being exposed to pornography is high, so it is important to educate him on how it can be harmful to him. Share with your son your family’s values about marriage, sex, and respect, and how masturbation does not align with those values.
You may want to cover some of the mental and emotional changes he may go through at this age, like a changing attitude towards girls as well as thoughts about sex and sexuality.
At this age, your son may have friends who have started dating, or he himself may be considering dating. Take this time to share with your son some qualities that show when a couple is ready to start dating – i.e. the values of kindness, respect and responsibility that you’ve been emphasising and modelling over your son’s growing up years.
This is also a good time to talk to your son about your family’s stand on dating and the appropriate boundaries that should be drawn when going on dates, as well as healthy physical and emotional boundaries between friends, especially those of the opposite sex.
Emphasise that these boundaries are not to make him feel restricted in his friendships but to ensure that everyone is respected and protected so that his friendships can grow in a healthy way.
Talking about puberty is the beginning of your journey discussing sexuality with your son. Remember, if you aren’t the one providing your son with accurate information about his budding sexuality, social media, the internet, and his friends will fill that void.
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