Talking to your son about puberty can be challenging for a lot of parents. At what age do you start talking to boys about puberty? What are you supposed to be talking about? Do you tell him about the changes that girls go through? And who should be doing the talking? Mom or Dad? And what if there is no father around, to do the talking?
When should you start talking to your son about puberty? The sooner you start talking the better!
In an ideal world, you should start talking before he starts to notice any changes to his body. By changes, I mean things like the start of pubic hair, a bigger penis and testicles, growing taller and wider, body odour and sweating, sexy feelings, mood changes, and more. And these changes can start happening anywhere from the age of 9.
Spotting these changes in boys can sometimes be a bit tricky as they are usually hidden under their clothing. You can learn more about what signs to look out for here.
So basically, anytime from the age of 9 is a good time to start talking to your son about puberty in a way that prepares him for the forthcoming changes.
You’ll find more information about puberty in my Puberty 101 page.
You can start talking to kids about puberty from a young age. By talking when they are younger, you are gently introducing the concept to them that one day their body will start to change from being a child’s body to an adult body. Kids as young as three or four will have no trouble understanding this concept. They won’t really understand why (or even want to know why), but they will accept it as just another thing that will one day happen to them. They will start to see puberty as being a normal thing that happens to everyone, which is a good thing!
Sometimes it can feel as if there are more reasons not to talk about puberty than there are to talk.
What if you say too much and overwhelm him? What if you say too little and misinform him? Do boys need to understand puberty differently than girls? How do you talk without embarrassing him or yourself? What if he’s uninterested or walks away whilst you are talking?
You’re not alone as most parents have the same doubts. They wonder whether talking to their son is the right thing to do.
Well, I’m telling you that it is the right thing to do. By talking to your son about puberty, he’ll be better equipped to deal with the changes that are happening to them. Which means that he is more likely to find puberty a breeze instead of a hurricane!
Plus by talking to your son about puberty, you’re actually letting him know that he can turn to you for support, guidance and information that he will need during this important stage of his life.
Your son needs to know about the changes – physical, emotional and social – that will be happening to him.
So he needs to know about the physical changes, like pubic hair, larger genitals, and a deeper voice. He’ll have a lot more erections, sometimes when it is least expected or wanted. He’ll also begin to ejaculate (have semen come out of their penis) and may also have wet dreams. He needs to know that once he begins to ejaculate, that he is now fertile. Which means that he could become a dad if he has unprotected sexual intercourse with a girl.
He also needs to know that he might start to have sexy thoughts or feelings and that he may start to think about some girls (or boys) in a more romantic way. He may start to masturbate more often or for the first time. Puberty is the time when boys start to see sex as something that they will someday want to do. So don’t forget to tell him that having sex with someone is a big responsibility and that he doesn’t need to express his sexual feelings in this way (just yet). This is also a great time to start talking about what sexual behaviours and attitudes are okay, and not okay, in your family.
Don’t forget to let him know that he is normal, and that his friends are going through puberty as well. During puberty, there are a lot of changes happening to his body, brain and emotions that can make him feel different. So make sure he knows that he can always come and talk to you about anything. No matter how embarrassing it might be!
Today, we talk about puberty differently to how our parents talked to us about it. We now know that having one big talk doesn’t work. And that kids learn best by having lots of small frequent conversations that you keep on repeating. You start off with the basics and slowly keep on adding more details as your son gets older and more interested in the topic. Try to talk about the changes that are happening now as well as the ones to come.
Kids are usually only interested in learning about stuff that is relevant. So you can tell them about sexually transmitted infections when they are 10 or 11, but they won’t be interested in the details until it is relevant ie when they are ready to start thinking about having sex themselves.
It is the same for us parents! You probably had no interest in schools until your child was finally old enough to start going to school! And then, all of a sudden, it became a topic that you needed to learn about. Our kids are the same.
You’ll find some tips on how to talk, in the Parent Tipsheet, listed at the bottom of this page.
So as well as talking to your son in an everyday way about puberty, you can also look at buying some books for him to read. You will find some fantastic books for boys on puberty here.
Yes, he does need to know that girls go through puberty, and what some of their changes will be. Most of the changes for girls are the same but some, like periods and breasts, are different.
When you take an everyday approach where your son will see puberty as a normal part of growing up, it is helpful if both parents can talk to him about it. This way he knows that he can come to either of you with any questions or concerns that he may have about his changing body.
Some boys are comfortable talking about their changing body with their mother, but some aren’t. Let your son guide you as to what he is and isn’t comfortable with. If you get the sense that he isn’t comfortable, try to involve a man that he trusts, such as an uncle, an older cousin, or a family friend in the conversation.
You can find further information about puberty here. You’ll find some short educational videos, other blogposts on puberty and some age-specific recommendations for puberty books for boys.
There are many other resources available for talking to your son about puberty on this page as well.
If you get stuck and feel that you need some extra support with talking to your son about puberty, then my new book, Boy Puberty – How to talk about puberty and sex with your tween boy, may be helpful.
It was written to help parents ie you to start talking to your son about puberty. It will tell you everything you need to discuss and how to start talking about it.
I'm Cath, a sex educator living in Australia with my husband and 2 kids. I help parents to talk about sex (with less cringe and more confidence) and to empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. You can join my online parent support group here and visit my shop for helpful resources.