Inside: Talking to your son (or child with a male body) about puberty can be challenging for most parents. Find out how to start talking and to support your child as they grow up.
Talking to male children about puberty can be challenging for a lot of parents. Especially for mums (who don’t have the personal experience of going through male puberty themselves).
At what age do you start talking to boys (or male children) about puberty? What are you supposed to be talking about? Do you tell them about the changes that females 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
When should you start talking to your male child about puberty? The sooner you start talking the better!
In an ideal world, you should start talking before they start to notice any changes to their 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 male children 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 male child about puberty in a way that prepares them for the forthcoming changes.
You’ll find more information about puberty in my Puberty 101 page.
Can I start earlier than that?
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!
Why you should be talking to your child about puberty
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 them? What if you say too little and misinform them? Do males need to understand puberty differently than females? How do you talk without embarrassing them or yourself? What if they’re uninterested or walk away whilst you are talking?
You’re not alone as most parents have the same doubts. They wonder whether talking to their child is the right thing to do.
Well, I’m telling you that it is the right thing to do. By talking to your child about puberty, they’ll be better equipped to deal with the changes that are happening to them. Which means they are more likely to find puberty a breeze instead of a hurricane!
Plus by talking to your child about puberty, you’re actually letting them know that they can turn to you for support, guidance and information that they will need during this important stage of their life.
What your child needs to know about puberty
Your child needs to know about the changes – physical, emotional and social – that will be happening to them.
So they need to know about the physical changes, like pubic hair, larger genitals, and a deeper voice. They’ll have a lot more erections, sometimes when it is least expected or wanted. They’ll also begin to ejaculate (have semen come out of their penis) and may also have wet dreams. They need to know that once they begin to ejaculate, that they are now fertile. Which means they could become a parent if they have unprotected sexual intercourse with a female.
They also need to know that they might start to have sexy thoughts or feelings and that they may start to think about their friends in a more romantic way. They may start to masturbate more often or for the first time. Puberty is the time when kids start to see sex as something that they will someday want to do. So don’t forget to tell them that having sex with someone is a big responsibility and that they don’t need to express their 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 them know that they are normal and that their friends are going through puberty as well. During puberty, there are a lot of changes happening to their body, brain and emotions that can make them feel different. So make sure they know that they can always come and talk to you about anything. No matter how embarrassing it might be!
How to start talking to your child about puberty
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 child 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 schooling 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 child in an everyday way about puberty, you can also look at buying some books for them to read. You also find some fantastic puberty books for male bodies too.
Do they need to know about the changes that females are going through?
Yes, they do need to know that females (or girls) go through puberty, and what some of their changes will be. Most of the changes for females are the same but some, like periods and breasts, are different.
Which parent should it be?
When you take an everyday approach where your child will see puberty as a normal part of growing up, it is helpful if both parents can talk to them about it. This way they’ll know that they can come to either of you with any questions or concerns they may have about their changing body.
Some kids are comfortable talking about their changing body with their mother, but some aren’t. Let your child guide you as to what they are or aren’t comfortable with. If you get the sense that they aren’t comfortable, try to involve a male that they trust, such as an uncle, an older cousin, or a family friend in the conversation.
Resources to help with talking about puberty
My mission is to create resources that will help you to naturally talk to your kids about sex, all while respecting your personal values.
Which means that inside this website, you’ll find lots of resources to help you with talking to your child about puberty.
My Puberty 101 page includes all of the information on puberty. You’ll find lots of different blog posts to help with talking to your child about growing up.
You’ll find videos about puberty in my Sex Education Videos resource page that you can watch with your child or to learn more about puberty yourself.
You’ll also find an extensive range of children’s books on puberty, for kids of all ages.
If you get stuck and feel that you need some extra support with talking to your child about puberty, then my book, The Parents’ Guide to Puberty, may be helpful. It’s a straightforward common sense guide that will help you to start having honest conversations that will guide your child through puberty, and strengthen your relationship without feeling embarrassed, awkward or nervous.
Or maybe you’re looking for a video course to sit down and watch together with your child. My friend Rowena from Amazing Me has created a fantastic 2 part interactive course for parents/carers to attend together with their 9 to 12 year old. It’s fun, educational and age-appropriate! You can learn more about her puberty course here.
If you need some help with explaining sexual intercourse to your child, then How to Talk to Kids About Sex will help you explain sex to your child in a way they will understand. It breaks sex down into simple steps that take the stress out of explaining!
If you’re unsure about how to answer your child’s questions about sex, then I have the perfect book for you! The Sex Education Answer Book will give you age-specific answers to the most common questions kid’s ask parents about sex. Which means you don’t need to worry about finding a child-friendly explanation that your child understands.
And if you get stuck, feel free to get in touch! You can contact me here.
- Adolescence and Puberty. Edited by John Bancroft and June Machover Reinisch. 1990. Oxford University Press. New York.
- Gender Differences at Puberty. Edited by Chris Haywood. 2003. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
- Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexuality: Developmental and Forensic Psychology. Edited by Daniel S. Bromberg and William T. O’Donohue. 2013. Elsevier. Academic Press. Oxford.
- Puberty: Physiology and Abnormalities by Philip Kumanov and Ashok Agarwal. 2016. Springer International Publishing. Switzerland.