Puberty’s progress: Changes in mind, body and mood

Parents
may be more than a little uneasy with this transitional period in their son’s
or daughter’s life. They’re not sure what to expect. How can they tell when
their youngster is entering puberty? What should they tell their child about
it?

“Puberty
is such a nebulous term,” said Sloan Beth Karver, MD, assistant clinical
professor of Primary Education and Community Service at Allegheny University in
Philadelphia. “It happens over such a long span of time that it’s hard for a
parent to know exactly when a child enters puberty. Certainly there are
hormonal changes even before a parent may see any outward sign.”

But
outward signs soon do become apparent.

From caterpillar to butterfly

Kids
entering puberty are growing very fast – so fast they may lose their sense of
personal space. As a result, they can be pretty clumsy: They tip over glasses
with their elbows, walk into door frames, and literally trip over their own two
fast-growing feet.

They
may be embarrassed by hair sprouting in unlikely places, and devastated when
they break out in pimples. Emotionally, some kids are ready to tackle the world
but, at the same time, they’re also too shy to pick up the phone and make a
date.

Girls,
who begin to mature earlier than boys, often feel both self-conscious and proud
of their changing bodies. Boys cringe when they speak with a voice that cracks,
but they like growing taller and more muscular.

Both
boys and girls experience emotions that are stronger than those in their pasts.
They root passionately for the home team, cry desperately over a friend’s
perceived snub, and loathe driving Dad’s eight-year-old car.

Welcome
to your teenager’s puberty and the growth spurts, menstruation, pubic hair,
body hair, flight toward independence, hero worship, puppy love, and everything
else that goes along with it!

So
how do you help your teen cope with the astonishing physical and emotional
upheaval of puberty? You prepare ahead of time.

Some
of the more important conversations you will have with your teen are about
puberty. Kids can feel mighty threatened at times by the process of becoming an
adult and their unease is heightened when they pick up information from their
friends about “stuff” that sounds “gross” and “weird.” So that’s where you come
in, parents.

A big time for small talk

It’s
your job to explain puberty to your teenager in a way that makes changes seem
normal and acceptable.

Experts
say that it’s best to discuss the process before puberty is upon your son or
daughter. A good time to talk, they say, is when kids are preadolescent, even
before middle school.

These
conversations don’t have to be a big, formal deal. Instead, look for
opportunities that daily living presents. Perhaps you could comment on a TV
commercial that advertises sanitary pads, or talk about your own puberty: your
problem with acne, what your mother told you about menstruation, when you
learned to shave, your first date.

Keep
your talks short, but let your teen know that you think the information is
important. Do not go off into a long lecture that may overwhelm your teenager
with too much information at once.

Understand
that your son or daughter may need you now more than ever but just be too
confused, embarrassed, or shy to broach the subject of puberty. Make a point of
telling your teen that he or she can talk to you about anything.

Because
your teenager is at an age when it’s normal and expected for him or her to
begin establishing some independence, it becomes your job to keep a dialogue
going on these topics.

“It’s
very important for parents to keep the lines of communication open, so that
their child can ask for help if it’s needed,” says Dr. Karver. “And, in today’s
society, sometimes it’s needed desperately.”