Parenting Article 21 – Puberty
Puberty is a very special time for young people. It is a new experience for them and for you their parents. You could have several children in the family and each one might experience and deal with the milestone of puberty differently. Any difficulties they may experience may arise from the fact that they don’t really know what to expect and are unable to express these new and often turbulent feelings they’re having. Parents should not allow themselves to be influenced by the horror stories others will tell them of how difficult teenagers will be at this time. Remember this is your child, the one whose tantrums you coped with, whose joys you shared and whose griefs and sorrows you smoothed over. If you expect trouble it may oblige you!
Puberty is a time for celebration. A shedding of childhood to take on adolescence. It is a gradual process in which the child will vacillate back and forth from adolescence to childhood until she feels comfortable in adolescence. Children develop more quickly now than in the past. It may be necessary to begin talking to your child regarding what to expect at about the age of ten. Again, you know your child better than anyone else and must make the judgement about how much information to give at this time. Talk to your child with the aid of a book if necessary. But do talk to the child, don’t just produce a book and say ‘its time you read this.’
Becoming comfortable with the task
Think back on your own experience. How were you told? Did you find out for yourself? Were you ashamed, shy or embarrassed by what you were told or by the discomfort of the person telling you? Many parents express their discomfort at the prospect of facing such an intimate conversation with their own child. If you feel like this maybe you could discuss with a friend what you intend to tell your child and, in this way, become more comfortable about it. Recently parents have been saying that their children are asking questions after watching advertisements for sanitary protection on television. Questions must be answered!
Use proper names for body parts when talking to your child. This gives the child a language with which to talk about sex in a loving context and also to describe events more accurately should they find themselves in the unhappy position of having to do so to the authorities, in cases of abuse.
Coping with physical changes
Major physical changes take place in both boys and girls at puberty. The boys may be gangly and awkward in their movements and mortally embarrassed if you tease them when the voice starts breaking. They will anxiously peer into the mirror looking for the first signs of facial hair and will need lots of assurance of there is any delay in its appearance. The girls will either be confident, even precocious, wanting to wear garments which will show off the first signs of budding breasts or, they will be shy, hiding themselves in extra large tee-shirts and jumpers. Talk to the girls about periods and to the boys about wet dreams so that they won’t be shocked or frightened when it happens to them. Even in this day and age I’ve known children who thought they were bleeding to death or dying of cancer because they had been unprepared. Take on board the fact that you, the parents, are responsible for passing this information on to your children, unless you make a definite arrangement for school or other authority to do it for you. Whichever way your children handle this process, they are depending on your support, encouragement and understanding to get them through.
During puberty the body begins to perspire more. Adolescents become aware of the need to use deodorants and perfumed body sprays. Encourage the use of deodorants rather than antiperspirants. Some young people need lots of encouragement to take baths and showers while others hold up the bathroom for hours, to the annoyance of other family members. Buy cotton socks for malodorous feet and supply open sandals/ flipflops for use around the house.
Lounging around the house and sleeping late at weekends and holiday times seems to be the norm for most young people at this stage. I believe they need this rest and they need time to think about life and the problems of the world. However, it is also important to keep them focused on something they are interested in as well as on their schoolwork.
Spots and pimples can be a preoccupation with those who have oily skin. The pimples will stay until they go, no amount of special creams or ointments will vanish them away. If there is a family history of spots and pimples then the children are more likely to get them. Blackheads can be kept at bay and pimples reduced considerably with careful washing, using soap and water with a little lemon juice or vinegar added to the water. Pimples that are picked may leave scars. The earlier they appear, sometimes as young as nine years, the earlier they will disappear.
Protecting your children
Society no longer has a chaperone system to protect its females. Parents have a responsibility to protect their children, sons and daughters, until they are at least eighteen-years old. This means talking to both boys and girls about respecting each other; about coping with sexual feelings and urges until they are mature enough to take responsibility for their expression within a loving, long term relationship; about the rights of babies and children to have the love and attention of two parents who can provide the security they deserve (financial security is only one aspect and not absolutely essential). Parents have a responsibility to ensure that while their daughters may follow the latest fashion, they dress in a way that is not sexually provocative.
Young people are safer in groups at this age. If you open your house to their friends you will know where your own are and can supervise them all. The peer pressure will be very strong to have a boy or girl friend. The individual child will not be ready for this and will need support to ‘have a life’ which doesn’t include exclusive relationships with the opposite sex.
If the child can have a mentor or confidant, e.g. an adult friend of the family or a relative who is a good listener, this can be very helpful. The child can bounce ideas off the mentor before approaching the parents if they are unsure how the parents will react. The mentor will, hopefully, be a mature person who will guide the young person safely, challenging any gravely unacceptable behaviour. This is not a relationship you can introduce your adolescent to after you read this. It is a relationship which must be built up over a number of years.