When I was in college, I helped lead an adventure trip to Colorado. It would include camping, backpacking, and whitewater rafting. One of our guides for the week was Susie, a spirited and jovial blonde in her early twenties. On the day of the rafting trip, she brought those of us in her boat together and told us about her favorite rapid of the river called Zoom Flume. While other guides looked to avoid it by maneuvering around, she loved “gutting it” because it gave an incredible ride. Susie explained everything: what to expect and what to do when confronted with each part. That’s when another guide came up and told her that she had to avoid Zoom Flume because the river was running too high. As he walked away, we could see in her eyes that we were going to do it anyway.
As we went down the river, a friend of mine noticed the guides in the other boats (many strong guys) were working hard at paddling to keep their boats steady. Meanwhile, Susie would only occasionally stroke and then calmly tell each member of the boat what to do. The difference was that she knew the river inside and out. It made navigating the rapids much more manageable and when we got to Zoom Flume, we hit it head-on. Our ride was the best out of all of the groups.
Puberty in boys can be like going through rapids. The river is nice and easy when suddenly things change and become confusing and bumpy. As dads, we are the expert guides our sons need to help make the ride into puberty easier and perhaps enjoyable. Do what Susie did. Prepare your son for it before it begins. Talk to him about what is going to happen around age nine. Here is what your son needs to know about puberty before it starts.
Approaching the Subject
It may feel awkward but you just need to go for it and initiate the conversation. Sharing your own struggle in puberty will be helpful. Be honest and vulnerable. Talk about your own confusion and embarrassing moments during that time. Encourage him to have a sense of humor about the changes that are about to happen in the subsequent years, but whatever you do NEVER poke fun at him. He’s going to be insecure about the changes so the last thing he needs you to do is laugh at them.
Changing Attitude About Girls
When his relationship to girls changes, it is a foundational shift. Relating to girls will go from simple to complex and pressure-filled. He will be confused and scared because he’ll have feelings he doesn’t understand nor know what to do with them. Well, he may discover one thing to do about them. You need to talk to him about his desire to masturbate, sex, and the specter of pornography and its dangers.
Strange Developments Down Below
It normally starts with an increased size of his testicles and penis. Then he will grow hair in his pubic area and under his arms. That probably won’t feel that weird. What is weird that he needs to be ready for are the spontaneous erections. His penis will have a mind of its own. No one warned me. I remember walking down the hallway in sixth grade and thinking, “What is going on?! I’m not even thinking about sex! Stop it! Baseball! Baseball! Baseball! It’s not working! What’s wrong with me?!” He needs to be ready and to know there is nothing wrong with him when it does. During this phase, it is also common for him to experience ejaculation both during the day and while he’s sleeping. It may happen during his sleep without having a sexual dream. Again, he needs to know it’s normal.
Early or Late Bloomer
Other body changes he needs to be ready for: voice change, possible acne, and the need to use deodorant because of body odors. However, he’ll probably be primarily concerned with the growth spurt and the desire to build muscles. The thing he’ll feel most awkward about is where his peers are in the process. It will be unsettling for him to watch his friends sprout up physically or start pursuing girls when he’s not there yet. The other side of the equation is that he is ahead of everyone. This will also make him feel weird and self-conscious. Let him know about both possible scenarios and reassure him not to worry about it. He needs to know that he’ll get to the other side and that you will be there to continue to guide the entire way.
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What kind of feelings do you have when you experience changes?”