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puberty and teens - mother and her teenage son

Your Teen's Health: What Every Mom Should Know About Puberty, Teens and Hormones

Created: 11/03/2011
Last Updated: 11/03/2011

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As teenagers reach puberty, their bodies are likely to undergo significant changes, and their moods may be unpredictable and sometimes hard to explain. Don't worry. These changes are normal.

Puberty lasts for several years and marks the life stage when one's body changes from a child to an adult. Hormones help trigger and guide this process. They are natural chemicals in the body that produce gradual physical changes during this time and may also cause emotional changes that can sometimes seem uncontrollable to the person experiencing them and perhaps challenging for you as a parent. These changes are common during puberty, and they happen to everyone.

So, how can you best support your teen?

Don't wait to talk to your son or daughter about the changes they are experiencing; make time for communication. As an adult, you can provide support to your tween or teen who may not be sure what's "normal" and what's not. Assure them that everyone is unique and that they may experience these changes at a different time or pace than their peers. Though you both might feel uncomfortable at first, in the long run these conversations will make this transition easier for you and your child. Answer their questions with honesty. This includes making sure you have an understanding about puberty that you can share with them.

Puberty in girls

A female going through puberty will face physical changes, such as larger breasts, hair growth in new places, acne and changes in the shape of her hips, waist, bottom and thighs. As her breasts start growing, usually between the ages of eight and 12, you'll likely start to notice. This means that it may be time to take her shopping for a bra. Be sensitive to her need for privacy, but also offer a place for her to voice questions or concerns she may have about her changing body.

Menstruation is a turning point in a female's development from a child to a teenager. It's important to talk openly with your daughter about what to expect with regard to her period, what other kids are saying and how she feels about it.

Hair will start to grow under her arms and on her legs and pubic area. Your daughter might want to consider hair removal. Ask her about it and listen to her concerns and feelings. Instead of simply saying yes or no, explain the reasoning behind your answer.

Puberty in boys

For males, puberty generally starts between the ages of 12 and 14. Changes include growth of the genitals, broadening shoulders and enlarged larynx (this is the reason behind his voice "cracking" before obtaining a deeper pitch) and more prominent facial hair. Be open to questions and concerns about his changing body. If you don't know an answer, offer to work with him to find it. Assure him that what he's going through is common during this stage of his life.

A male also may experience his first ejaculations, either via masturbation or spontaneously during sleep ("wet dreams"). Talking to your son about these topics might be uncomfortable, but he'll likely have questions, and it's important for him to have a safe place to voice them. Acknowledge that it might be hard to talk about, but that these changes happen to all boys and being curious about his body is perfectly normal. It's important not to scold your child (male or female) for masturbating because this could lead to feelings of shame and a lower likelihood that they will come to you with future concerns.

Common changes in both boys and girls

As your son or daughter goes through these changes, they'll also be faced with questions about sex. Curiosities generally begin between the ages of 10 and 12; they may experiment with kissing and hugging. Around the age of 13, sex hormones rise and cause new feelings and curiosities. They may look to you for a model of how to express these feelings. Click here for tips on talking to your tween or teen about sex.

Additionally, a common physical condition that comes along with puberty for both males and females is acne. This may be mild (blackheads and whiteheads), moderate (larger inflamed-looking blemishes) or severe (large cysts or nodules). Acne is caused by a build-up of oil, microorganisms and dead skin cells in the hair follicles under the skin.

Acne can significantly impact a teen's self image. Support them by taking them to talk to a dermatologist and encouraging good habits such as regular face washing, a healthy diet and plenty of water consumption. Talk to them about how they feel about their complexion and assure them that you're there to help.

Other areas to tune into

Today's young people also face many emotional and social challenges during puberty, including self-esteem and peer pressure. A child's self-esteem is built at an early age and greatly influenced by relationships within the family. Pressures to fit in can be difficult, and getting picked on can be traumatic. Click here to learn more about bullying.

Another area to stay tuned into is your daughter's weight. With a higher preoccupation with appearance and weight in today's society, girls may be at risk to develop eating disorders. It's important to share healthy role models with your children, and to be one yourself. Set an example of eating well and exercising regularly; encourage your family to eat together as often as possible and to be active together too.

Overall health means more than simply being in shape and eating properly, it includes a positive mental outlook as well. Signs of depression to look for in teens include tearfulness or frequent crying, sadness or hopelessness, problems sleeping, spending too much time alone, unexplained aches and pains, loss of interest in activities, problems in school, irritability or anger, gaining or losing a lot of weight in a short period of time, undereating or overeating, fatigue and feelings of worthlessness or guilt. If you think your teen may be depressed, seek professional help right away.

Peer pressure can also lead to experimenting with alcohol and drugs. Parental involvement early can help address these concerns, so talk to your teens about these topics in their young teen years and keep talking, especially as they start driving.

When it's time to get a driver's license, make sure they know the rules—both the state's and yours as a parent. Talk about things like curfew, how many kids can be in the car, seat belts, alcohol and texting and talking on the phone. Be clear and consistent on the rules. 

Also, don't forget about you! As a parent, it's important to get support and talk about your own feelings about your child growing up. Seeing your son or daughter change into an adult can cause a variety of feelings, and having a network of other moms can make this journey a bit easier. So reach out to friends or get involved in the community; you'll be happy you did.


In the article above you mention the following: "A male also may experience his first ejaculations, either via masturbation or spontaneously during sleep ("wet dreams"). Talking to your son about these topics might be uncomfortable, but he'll likely have questions, and it's important for him to have a safe place to voice them. Acknowledge that it might be hard to talk about, but that these changes happen to all boys and being curious about his body is perfectly normal". Please allow me to provide a man's perspective on this suggestion. Regardless how open a mother is to her son about sharing questions, thoughts, or feelings, no pre-teen or teenage boy is going to want or be able to muster the courage, candor or nerve to talk his mother about any of these issues, including erections, wet dreams, and most of all masturbation and ejaculations. The statement that "he'll likely have questions" is the key phrase in this paragraph, and it's really not accurate. Please understand that the vast majority of boys do not have any significant or long-lasting difficulties or struggles with these facets of puberty. This may sound counter-intuitive, but they're usually successfully navigated self-sufficiently by most boys, without resorting to advice from parents. Those would be exceptionally difficult and mortifying topics to discuss with their father or an older brother - so them sharing anything regarding those with a female member of the family (or especially anyone outside of the family) is a totally unrealistic expectation. At least not without inflicting an overwhelming and unbearable amount of embarrassment on them, which will guarantee they'll never want to willingly share anything with you in the future. And frankly, how would a mother be able to answer her son's questions about these topics? I've personally known women that were not even aware of what a wet dream was, or realized the physical and emotional challenges that teenage boys have regarding spontaneous erections (in public situations). I also doubt most mothers have the fortitude or are equipped to manage a conversation about ejaculations, which frankly does not need to be discussed unless your son voluntarily comes to you with questions. And that is highly unlikely to happen because it would be a tacit admission that they’re masturbating, which is the last thing on earth any teenage boy will ever openly talk about with their mother. The best advice I've seen is to look for an age-appropriate book for your son, and then ask your husband to leave it in his room. Your husband can then offer to talk to your son about anything if he wants more information. Trust me, your son will not want to talk to you (his mother) about any of these highly sensitive and delicate topics. Furthermore, he does not want you to even be aware of what he is going through, because as your son, it is exceptionally difficult for him to admit to or talk about anything related to his personal sexual development with his mother, especially at such a young age (or at any age for that matter). Obviously, there are many parts of your son’s life that need your involvement or support, but this is a part of his life that does not need your guidance.


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