Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a widowed mother of two boys, one of whom just started puberty. I’ve been agonizing over a birds-and-bees talk but I’m not sure I’m the right person to deliver it. Having lived through puberty myself, I’m pretty familiar with what girls go through, but I don’t know nearly enough about boys’ experience. One thing I do know is that I barely recognize him anymore! So two questions: What do I need to know about boys’ puberty? And is there anything I can do?
Nature does some pretty amazing things, like turning caterpillars into butterflies and polliwogs into frogs. What those and other dramatic examples of metamorphoses have in common is that youngsters are being transformed into adults. And when animals become adults, the first thing they do is start making babies. Same goes for humans (although we generally hold off on the whole baby-making thing for a few years). Right now, hormones are tearing through your son’s body and brain getting him ready to reproduce. Scary stuff.
For boys, puberty typically begins at age 11 or 12 (although sometimes as early as 9 or as late as 14). Over the course of two to five years, your son’s penis and scrotum will get bigger, he’ll start sprouting pubic hair and underarm hair, his voice will get deeper, and he may develop acne.
Most people know how puberty changes girls and make the incorrect assumption that it’s no big deal for boys. Not so. For example, in the not-too-distant future, he’ll have his first wet dream, which he’ll probably find either confusing or frightening – he may worry that he had an accident in bed or that there’s something terribly wrong with him. He may also discover masturbation. (One good thing that could come of this is that he’ll start doing his own laundry. Enjoy.)
And let’s not forget about those spontaneous erections that pop up at the most inopportune times, like in the middle of English class or at lunch – usually when there are a lot of other people around. Because males tend to be competitive, your son may be constantly comparing himself to his friends. And if some of them are developing more quickly than he is, he may feel inadequate. Locker rooms are terrible places for boys who’re lagging behind.
While your son’s puberty is going to be tough on him, it can also bring up all sorts of conflicting emotions and may not be all that easy for you either. After all, your little boy is becoming a man. Right now, what he needs from you is information, patience and reassurance that what he’s going through is normal.
By the time girls reach puberty they’ve been exposed to all sorts of magazine articles and books that have prepared them – at least a little – for puberty. But there’s precious little out there for boys. (One good resource is “The What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys,” by Lynda Madaras.) So make a point to ask your son whether he has any questions about how his body is changing and set aside some time to answer them.
Be prepared for a little rejection, though. Chances are pretty slim that your son will want to discuss puberty with you – especially anything having to do with sex or physical changes. For that reason, ask an adult male friend or relative to help out. If either you or your son is too embarrassed to have the conversation, he’ll go looking for answers elsewhere. And the last place you want a young boy to be is online, Googling “sex.”
Armin Brott is the author of “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be.”