In The Birds, the Bees, and Boys: Teaching Your Boys About Sex -- Part 1, I discussed how to form and model a healthy, Biblical view of sexuality, tips on talking about sex, and other topics leading up to puberty. Now for the nitty-gritty of puberty. There are plenty of books and websites out there to tell you all about the stages of puberty, but I'll offer a summary based on what I have read and researched as well as personal experience with my own sons. Please remember that the ages listed below are approximate. Each boy is different.
1. Puberty doesn't happen overnight
For boys, puberty begins as early as age 9, with 10 being the average, and ends between ages 14 and 18 with 16 being the average. Puberty can take up to 5 years from beginning to end.
When a mother tells me, exasperated, that her ten-year-old son is suddenly being very emotional, angry, easily frustrated, and contrary, basically giving her fits -- I usually mention puberty, and she then looks at me like I've lost my mind. However, those hormones are beginning to rage and flood the system. It will ebb and flow. This is not an excuse for bad behavior, but it can help a mom (and dad) be more patient and understanding.
2. First signs of puberty -- body odor and raging emotions
First, around age 10, look out for one of the first signs -- body odor. One day, my oldest son came to me and said that his underarms smelled really bad. I replied, "Are you sure?" That was a brilliant response, I know, but I was a little shocked that this would happen at age 10. I told him that this is part of growing older, that both of his parents have to wear deodorant to prevent this problem, and that he needs to make sure to wash his underarms with soap when he bathes. I bought him deodorant (not anti-perspirant) just like his father's and showed him how to use it. Then I started to panic because I had no idea puberty started so early in boys!
Again, because the hormones are becoming active, you may notice your son exhibiting behaviors that you find confusing or frustrating. Namely, he may begin to cry about things that normally wouldn't bother him, get angry for no apparent reason, and become irritable and grumpy. Honestly, I thought this was just a girl thing, but it happens in boys as well -- probably not to the same extent, but it happens, and it's all hormone related.
3. Growth spurt
After puberty has begun, you may notice a huge growth spurt which causes your son to be tired and hungry all the time. During puberty, boys will put on about 20 to 30 pounds and grow 4 or more inches in a year. His chest will widen, and he will thicken out into a more manly body. My own son grew 12 inches in 2 and a half years. Twelve. Still blows my mind. The doctor always asks if he has leg pain. My son, although exhausted all the time, did not have growing pains but many do.
Make sure your son learns how to make healthy food choices and then let him eat. During this time, I began transitioning away from having him ask me for a snack, and I stocked the fridge and pantry with choices he did not have to ask me about: yogurt, cheese sticks, natural applesauce, pretzels, and mandarin oranges. If he is hungry, he can eat any of those snacks without asking as long as it's at least an hour or so before a meal.
A visitor in my home once commented on the huge stack of cereal boxes stacked on the top shelf of my pantry. I explained that the boxes would last just a few weeks. I currently have, no joke, 24 boxes of unopened cereal in my pantry. Why? My oldest eats 4-5 bowls of cereal in the mornings when going through a growth spurt which means we eat a box of cereal every 3 to 4 days. When cereal is on sale, I buy it!
4. Slamming doors and glasses
Along with the growth spurt comes strength. With great strength comes great responsibility! (Sorry, had to. Spider-man fans know what that's all about.) Honestly, if another mother had not warned me about the strength issues, I would have thought all those, "I-didn't-mean-tos" were untruths. However, because of an increase in strength, he will begin to slam doors, slam glasses down on the table, and hurt younger siblings on accident. Your son will take some time to get used to his new-found strength. You have to remind him to remember that his body is much stronger and to be careful. It will pass, but it takes a while. My son, now 13, no longer slams doors or glasses, but he has accidentally broken things and still occasionally hurts his brother because he's so much bigger and stronger than he used to be not so long ago.
5. Other physical changes: hair, genitals, voice change
Beginning around age 11 to 13, boys will begin to develop hair under the arms, in the groin area, and later, on the face. As puberty goes on, the hair will become thicker and begin to become more like that of an adult. At this point, your son may suddenly have an intense desire for privacy while changing clothes -- especially in front of you, his mother. Although you won't (and probably shouldn't) be looking, his penis, testicles, and scrotum will all begin growing and maturing.
Also, the voice starts changing anywhere between ages 10-15, and the completion of the voice change will be between ages 14-16. The average age for the voice to begin changing is 12 1/2. However, as I said earlier, my oldest son's voice began changing at 11 1/2.
Hormonal changes causes the skin to get oilier. Because of the extra oil combined with dirt, dead skin cells, and bacteria, your son will most likely start to get pimples. Most young boys do not wash their faces very often. Once puberty starts, it's time to teach your son to wash his face twice a day (and after exercise). Buy him some face cleanser that is not girly looking and some Stridex-type cleansing pads, and teach him how to use them. Show him what the T-zone is on the face, explain that extra oil is normal for teenagers, and help him get in the habit of proper skin care.
Until puberty is over, your son will experience intense emotions: anger, frustration, pleasure, confusion, awkwardness, moodiness, etc. He may get upset easily and test his boundaries. Try to remain calm, especially when he's irrational. He may also be forgetful and distracted. A child who used to be on top of things may suddenly forget all sorts of things. Be patient -- remember how you were when pregnant and had all those hormones surging!
8. Sleep disturbances and his body clock
My son woke up every day at 7:00 a.m. - happy - for many years. As puberty hit, all that began to change. Now, he no longer wakes up happy, and at age 13, can barely drag himself out of bed in the mornings. His body clock at night also shifted, and he frequently complained that he could not sleep. It is a proven fact that the hormone melatonin which kicks in around 10 p.m. in adults, causing us to fall asleep, doesn't kick in until much, much later in teenagers. One study said the melatonin in teenagers, on average, kicks in at 1:00 a.m. Again, be patient. Your teenager needs his sleep but has a hard time getting it sometimes. My son told me yesterday, "It's weird. I'm so tired, but when I go to bed, sometimes I just stare at the ceiling for an hour."
9. Erections and ejaculations
As your son goes through puberty, he may experience erections more often than he used to. This can be a bit disconcerting for him. His father should assure him that his erections are normal and that he will have more control over his penis as he gets older.
Between the ages of 12 and 15, boys are old enough to have ejaculations -- semen shooting out of the penis. This often happens during the night, thus the name nocturnal emissions or wet dreams. If your son wakes up and thinks he wet the bed and is going through puberty, have your husband talk to him about nocturnal emissions. He may wake up with his bed and underwear a little wet. Wet dreams are normal, and there is no reason to be embarrassed by them. His father may want to mention that this is one step towards manhood and fatherhood although he still has lots of growing to do - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
10. Awakening desire
Boys will often start noticing the opposite sex during puberty, and they might start having feelings of desire. Sometimes these feelings are a bit scary. Instead of telling your son he is lusting, tell him that these feelings are good and God-given. God made him male and visual. He should try to keep his mind pure and realize that these feelings will be, eventually, channeled towards his wife. Again, it's not the feelings, it's the timing.
However, I do want to warn you. We all know that there is some horrendous, deviant stuff on the internet these days, and the last thing we want is pornography shaping our child's sexuality. Do not be naive. The computer must be monitored at all ages, but especially when your son is going through puberty. The increase in feelings of desire coupled with images on the internet can be dangerous for your son. Looking at cheerleaders and girls in bikinis can quickly morph into something way worse on the internet. As soon as your son shows signs of puberty, put passwords on all computers, even if it is in a public room in the house so the computer can not be used in the middle of the night or when you are not at home to monitor its use. Be careful, be vigilant, and be smart. Remember, Satan is a roaring lion seeking out who he can devour -- do not underestimate this temptation.
Fathers are absolutely critical during puberty. Boys will start to push against mom because of hormones and the desire for independence. At this point, your husband may want to transition from saying, "Don't talk to your mother that way," to "Don't talk to my wife that way."
Whenever possible, dads should step in and show how to apply deodorant, etc. because boys really need their dads when all this begins. Puberty can be scary, and boys need to know that their dads went through this as well. Fathers need to help their boys navigate these years.
Of course, there are fathers who refuse to do so, and there are fathers who are not available. If this is the case, pray to our heavenly Father for wisdom, and do what you can. On the flip side, moms need to back off and allow dad to step in. I will say, sometimes I feel my husband may be being too hard on my sons, but I need to allow him to do what he feels is best as a man and as a father to our growing boys.
Finally, my husband came up with a great idea last year. Every night after my oldest son's small group, he picked him up and took him to McDonald's or somewhere to talk over a milkshake or burger. They talked about puberty, body changes, or just life. Oftentimes, they discussed a chapter in a book for boys on puberty (I'll talk about the book later.) It was a great time for both of them.
12. The last word
Finally, don't stop touching your son. Once your son goes through puberty, he may try to withdraw from his mom physically. However, keep hugging him, patting him on the back, and giving him quick side-hugs. Tell him you love him often. Even though mom needs to back off and let dad step in more during these years, he still needs his mom. He needs to know that you love him and care for him just as much as he needed it when he was three years old.
Questions? Ask, and I will do my best to answer. Comments? Feel free, but be nice. I think the more we talk, the less "squirmy" and uncomfortable we'll feel.
Stay tuned for The Birds, the Bees, and Boys: Teaching Your Boys About Sex -- Part 3. I'll discuss a great book for boys called How You Are Changing.