Talking to your son about puberty? Here’s how

Practice saying "that's normal" while discussing physical and emotional changes

Mom points ahead while on a hike with her son. Another mom and son are out of focus in the background.

Most of us have been through puberty and wouldn’t otherwise need to think about it until we have preteens of our own.

But as long as Sanford Health physician, Glenn Ridder, M.D. specializes in family medicine, he’ll likely continue having more of of those conversations than the rest of us combined.

That’s why Sanford Health News turned to Dr. Ridder for expertise on how to approach the topic when it comes to adolescent males.

Puberty explained

“For boys especially, there isn’t a natural kind of initiation into manhood,” Dr. Glenn Ridder explains. Unlike puberty in girls, there isn’t a defined event — like that first menstrual cycle — to mark the beginning.

Puberty for boys is best described, practically, as the physiologic change and transition into adulthood, which includes deeper vocal cords, growing more hair, becoming broader at the shoulders and narrow at the hips. On average it starts between ages 9 and 14.

“And some of that is so subtle when it happens and, of course, the growth spurt, that nobody really talks about it. It just kind of happens,” Dr. Ridder said.

Find a doctor: Search for family medicine providers at Sanford Health

Conversations over these changes are encouraged between a parent or guardian and the boy who is roughly middle school-aged.

“Unfortunately, parents are depending on the school system or somebody else to give them that information because it’s too embarrassing to talk about,” Dr. Ridder said.

When those changes happen, he says, that’s a great time to start.

“I say, ‘Yeah, this is a common thing,’ and that’s always the way I approach it,” Dr. Ridder explains. “Common things happen when you’re going through puberty and virtually everybody experiences them whether boy to man or girl to woman.”

Whether it’s changes in the reproductive systems or rising levels of testosterone, he encourages parents to be frank.

“You just say, well, this is what happens.”

Having the talk

The first step, Dr. Ridder says, is to keep that line of communication open and staying connected to your kids, not just virtually.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on more family time, it’s leading to more screen time with schooling and virtual interactions.

“Hopefully they all realized that virtual interaction is not the same as is face-to-face interaction,” Dr. Ridder said. “At a certain point, you’ve gotta get rid of that equipment and just talk.”

Related: Girls and puberty: It’s about more than their first period

This is hopefully encouraging people to get back into their relationships, like family dinners for example.

“We’re here for a half-hour, we’re going to have to say something. All of a sudden, communication starts and relationships open up. Kids realize parents really do love them and parents realize kids think we’re OK,” Dr. Ridder says.

Parents have been through the puberty phase and despite it seeming uncomfortable, he says let them hear about it from you, first.

“You are more of an expert than the kid, and there’s nobody in their class that has any more significant experience with this than each one of these boys do,” he said. “So you need you or somebody older, somebody they can trust and that’s gonna hold them accountable.”

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Posted In Back to School, Children's, Family Medicine, Parenting, Sioux Falls

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