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When your child goes through puberty it can be a tough time for everyone involved. You may well remember your own confusions about the major physical and emotional changes you experienced when you were growing up, and how you wish you’d had more support from your parents. Well, now it’s your turn to do the best you can to help the next generation through the process of becoming independent adults.
Even though your teen is on a pre-programmed journey towards adulthood, this is a crucial time when they actually need your parental support more than ever. Children who are prepared for puberty will find the passage much easier to negotiate than those who have to figure it all out on their own.
Here are four ways that you can use puberty as a golden opportunity to strengthen your relationship and connection with your child, by letting them know that you are there for them for information, support, and guidance.
1. Bodily changes
Perhaps the most obvious sign of puberty is the physical changes that will be happening to your child’s body. From acne spots to body hair and odour to changes in physical shape and developing sexual organs, to voice changes, erections, monthly periods, and more; the physical transition can be scary to understand.
You can help your child with practical information about what is happening and how to look after their pubescent body. Talk to them about the correct use of deodorant and skincare, show boys how to shave, and explain to girls about sanitary protection during periods. Help them to reinforce new daily routines at home and have sensible professional solutions on standby for particularly troublesome problems.
For instance, ‘scarring can develop following acne, especially where nodules and cysts are part of the disease,’ explains a leading dermatologist. Luckily, with the right medical care, your child’s self-confidence need not suffer unnecessarily.
2. Emotional changes
Hormonal changes during adolescence affect both the body and mind. This means that on top of dealing with a changing physique, your child will also be grappling with what they think and feel. They may feel confused or have strong emotions they’ve never experienced before. They may feel overly sensitive, become easily upset, and feel anxious about their appearance. Typically, close family members are the first to bear the brunt of adolescent mood swings.
Reassure your child that their mixed emotions are a perfectly normal part of puberty and that you will be supportive and understanding in helping them to find a new normal. Crucially, make sure that your child knows that they can talk to you about anything, or encourage them to share their feelings with other adults they trust.
Professional counselling can be a great help for teens, and free confidential advice is always available from organisations such as Childline’s telephone helpline; their website is a rich source of valuable puberty advice for both boys and girls.
3. Reproductive development
Puberty is the process during which boys and girls become sexually mature. For teens, having a good understanding of the reproductive system not only explains the reasons for the physical changes that are taking place but what the consequences of having unprotected sex could easily be. Girls need to know that they could become pregnant; boys need to know that they could father a child.
Sex education is a hugely important part of adolescence, though you may well find that your child knows more than you think when you broach the subject. If they feel embarrassed, focus your attention on suggesting useful resources that they can turn to for information, including Sexplain, SexEtc, and Planned Parenthood. Also, make sure you share your thoughts on sex in the context of loving relationships.
Your child should know that being attracted to a boy or girl, having sexual thoughts, and masturbating are entirely normal elements of growing up; while having a real-life sexual relationship carries with it a great degree of responsibility and emotional maturity that they may not yet have.
4. It’s all completely normal
Many adolescents feel alone with their problems and unsupported during their journey towards adulthood. They may feel they’re the only ones getting pimples, growing breasts, or struggling with unwanted erections. They will be comparing themselves to their friends, social media, and celebrity influencers, and wondering why they might be different – often obsessively so.
As a parent, you have the advantage of knowing first-hand that puberty happens slowly over a number of years; anywhere between 5–10 years and that one day the process will be complete.
Help your child to understand that everyone in their age group is experiencing the same changes but at their own pace. Everyone is different and it’s all completely normal. The more your child knows about puberty and the more you can dispel any unhelpful girl myths and boy myths around the topic, the better your teens will be able to make the changes in their stride without undue worry.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.