Talking to Your Son About Puberty
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The good, the bad, and the ugly
Before I became a parent, I never imagined that one night after his bath, my preteen son would come running into the living room, completely naked, to show off his brand-new pubic hair. But that’s exactly what happened, and now that I, as a Solo Mom, have successfully gotten two boys mostly through their teen years, I recognize just how much my sons need me to teach them about their changing bodies (no matter how awkward these conversations might be).
Talking to teenage boys about puberty isn’t for the weak of heart, but for Solo Moms of boys, it’s just another part of being a parent. There’s no avoiding the stinky armpits, sudden interest in washing their sheets, and fascination with morning wood, so rather than avoiding it, jump in and talk to your sons about their bodies. There are plenty of healthy, positive ways in which we can teach our sons about their bodies.
1. Use the real words
Teaching my sons about their bodies using the clinical terms for their body parts helped us navigate some super-uncomfortable conversations. Sure, everyone giggled a few times when I first said “penis” and “vagina,” but using those terms made it clear that these conversations were factual and important.
Don’t assume that your sons know much of anything. My sons didn’t learn much in their sex-education classes at school beyond basic biology. Growing hair in new places, beginning to stink, and even teen acne came as a surprise to them. Talking about the changes they could expect in their bodies as they got older eased many of their fears about puberty.
2. Be prepared
As uncomfortable as talking about your son’s changing body can be, it’s important to be prepared for the changes that are coming his way. This means making sure you’re stocked with deodorant, razors, and shaving cream long before he comes home smelling like rotten onions and sporting a full-on beard. Giving your son the hygiene supplies he needs and explaining how to use them can go a long way toward staving off awkward conversations down the line. Remember that puberty is a sensitive time in your son’s life and how you talk about his body can have a lasting impact. Don’t shame him for stinking to high heaven; just keep reminding him to take a shower and make sure he puts on clean clothes!
3. Have “the talk”
No one wants to talk to their kids about sex, but honesty is always the best policy and that’s especially true where uncomfortable topics are concerned. It’s tempting to make sweeping statements about the dangers of teenage sex, but it’s important to be honest about the risks and the benefits of sex, too. Come prepared with facts and statistics, and lay them out without judgment or shame.
No matter how much you tell your sons not to have sex, it’s highly likely they will do it anyway. It’s much better for them to know how to do it safely than to try to figure it out themselves. Give them easy access to condoms and information about safe sex, preferably in a completely unmonitored way. I put together a basket of sexual health books and condoms, and I left it in an area of our house where I never really go. My sons know they have supplies available if they need them, and we’ve had frank discussions about how to use condoms for when they make the decision to have sex.
4. Be frank about masturbation
Literally the last thing I ever wanted to talk to my sons about was masturbation. But eventually one of my sons came to me and told me he had a problem with his penis. It turned out that my suggestion about trying lube was a simple fix, but it made it clear that my sons needed more information about masturbation as a normal, healthy part of becoming a sexual being. It never really dawned on me to talk to my sons about masturbation, but I realized that they are going to explore their bodies themselves and they need to be educated about how to do that. As uncomfortable as it was, I ordered my sons a big jug of lube on Amazon and talked to them about how to masturbate safely.
5. Admit how awkward it is (and feels!)
No matter how awkward talking about puberty and sex with your son makes you feel, he is probably even more embarrassed. It’s OK to admit that you’re pretty much dying inside and crack a few jokes. Acknowledging how weird it all feels goes a long way toward making it less excruciating for everyone.
It’s natural for boys to compare their bodies, and especially their genitalia, to that of other boys. Talk to them about being confident in their own bodies instead of always trying to compete with their friends. Puberty is an awkward and sensitive time, but it’s also a great opportunity to help your son view himself with compassion. It’s hard to feel confident when your voice is changing and the school locker room is a minefield, but building confidence now will last a lifetime.
Most important, listen to your sons. They may regale you with way too much information, but listening to their thoughts and concerns about their bodies will build trust and help you, as a Solo Mom, navigate those awkward adolescent years.
Jody Allard is a writer and mother living in Seattle. Her work has been featured in the Washington Post, Time, and Good Housekeeping, and on Vice, among others. When she isn’t writing, she can be found binge-watching HGTV and embarrassing her teenagers.
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