What Parents Need to Know to Guide Their Children Through Puberty

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Editor’s Note: Welcome to our five-part CNN Wellness series on adolescence: a difficult time in any circumstance. As our children return to school this fall, learn more about helping your tweens and teens understand their developing brain and feel their feelings.

. – Adults tend to remember their adolescence as a prominent memory (or perhaps, in some cases, it is a memory in low light): the first shave of the leg or face, the first kiss, the first bra, the first ejaculation or menstruation, and the first time you walked into a room and they treated you like an adult.

A series of events, part humbling and part liberating, can pass rapidly through our brains, explaining one of our greatest stages of metamorphosis. Perhaps it is the trauma that has compressed the experience. Or maybe it’s that once the final product is made, our adult self, it’s hard to trace it back to where it started.

But for those who go through it, adolescence is a long journey, beginning long before we can anticipate it and ending long after. And the variability from one child to another is enormous.

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It’s possible for a group of friends to collectively spend about 15 years in their teens, with early development beginning at age 8 and late development not ending until age 20, said Dr. Richard J. Chung, a medical specialist. Teen at Duke Health.

This long journey of adolescence becomes more manageable for all parties when we see it as slow and unique for each person. This helps parents and caregivers know when to worry and when to relax, when to explain and when to be quiet, when to hug and when to let go.

A very rough timeline

Some children begin puberty at the end of elementary school. Girls can start at age 8 and boys at 9, which is considered “precocious puberty” in both cases, Chung said.

Other boys start puberty as late as high school. For girls, the last age is usually around 13 years, and for boys it is 14. The whole process can take between two and five years, although psychological maturity can take longer.

For boys, the first sign is testicular enlargement, which is gradual, Chung said. For girls, the first sign is what doctors call “breast buds,” or small bumps under the nipple. Both are activated by hormones and are followed by a series of physical, emotional and cognitive changes, including the growth of body hair, as well as changes in muscle mass and fat.

Two of the most notable milestones are the beginning of menstruation, or menarche, in girls, and the beginning of sperm production, or spermarch, in boys.

Chung said that parents may be inclined to attribute their children’s psychological changes to the hormones that cause these physical changes, but the relationship is not always clear cut.

“We can try to establish a direct link between hormonal changes and mood swings during this stage of life, but there is no pristine correlation. There are many reasons that young people may start acting differently that are not related to hormonal differences, “he said.

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“It is tempting for a parent to try to analyze everything, but the main message is that it is complicated. Not just the physical and hormonal part, but also the broader neurodevelopmental, emotional and social progression,” Chung explained.

There is no one-size-fits-all roadmap

A lot is happening and there is no one-size-fits-all roadmap. Puberty develops very differently for each person, which is probably evident to anyone who has seen a photo of an eighth grade class. There are women among girls, men among boys, and non-binary adults, among others, who are classified as minors.

“In general, there is a particular process, which includes when it starts, how the sequence progresses, but there are also many variations on the theme,” Chung said.

“We talk a lot with parents and young people about it, because they often Google and find that something does not follow the script and can cause a lot of anxiety,” said the specialist. “For the most part, it’s a variation on the typical experience,” he added.

Chung wants parents to help their children overcome the mentality of the typical or normal versus the atypical and abnormal. That is, you don’t want them to hesitate to bring up any concerns to your doctor, who can help confirm that there is, in fact, no problem.

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He also wants parents to make sure their children feel comfortable talking to them about any changes in their body. This can happen by giving children an idea of ​​the changes that will occur before they start, as well as by accommodating any restlessness during the puberty process. These mini-biology lessons will help you understand your experience.

It’s much more common for parents to have a menstruation talk with girls than to talk about sperm production with boys, Chung said. Consequently, boys may be more likely to be embarrassed about ejaculations than girls about their periods.

“Pediatricians and other child health professionals need to do a better job with this (talk about spermarquia), really partner with parents and other people and make this part of their conversation and normalize all these dramatic physical changes,” he said. . “Also, it’s important to untangle it from conversations about sexuality,” he said.

While there is a clear relationship between ejaculations and sex, the two do not necessarily overlap in boys going through puberty. Chung said keeping these conversations separate can help reduce the stigma surrounding them.

Early and late development

During puberty, no one feels normal. Developed early, late or intermediate, it doesn’t matter. It is a time to feel that you do not belong; you, and only you, are a little weird.

For girls who develop early, be aware of how the people around them, including adults, can sexualize them, said Dr. Jess Shatkin, vice president of education and professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Center for Studies Children’s Hospital at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone Health.

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“Although girls mature faster, they are often not ready [para la sexualización]. And that can hurt their self-esteem, as they begin to see themselves as objects. Around the seventh or eighth grade, they can start to go silly and put science and math aside as they don’t think that’s their place, “said Shatkin, author of” Born to Be Wild: Why Teens Take Risks, and How We Can Help Keep Them Safe “.

For children who mature early, Shatkin added, parents should remember that this will make them more prone to risky behaviors at a younger age than their peers. Evolutionarily speaking, this makes sense. This is how humans, particularly men, established their role at the top of the social hierarchy for much of human history when we foraged for food and lived off the land. Survival required risk.

Shatkin said that just because your child matures early or late on its own doesn’t necessarily mean you should worry about their emotional state or seek professional psychological help.

“Not everyone needs a psychiatrist or a therapist. Children can cope well with good family and supportive friends,” he said. “Talk to your children, and not just a conversation, and ask them how they are.”

“Remind them that this is not something they have to grasp. It is a huge and wide range of human experiences,” he said.

Emotional red flags

Adolescence is full of ups and downs. These could be cause for concern when they occur alongside abrupt changes in behavior, Shatkin said. If children are suddenly more or less asleep, anxious, depressed, appear to be using drugs, drop grades, or have gotten into a fight with all of their friends, then the red flag has been raised. This is a good time to ask questions and possibly seek professional help.

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For the most common disorders, such as fights with friends or a fight with a coach, parents should offer support, but not solutions.

“Be curious, but don’t clean up your mess,” Shatkin said. “What confuses some parents is that they see your role as friend and protector. But you are not there to make your children happy all the time,” he explained.

Just listen

Sometimes when they are not willing to talk – and there will be times when they are not willing to talk – support can simply mean making space and time to be together. Share some cookies, take a walk. It does not matter. The company alone can help.

“When you don’t know what to say, it’s always good to be there and listen,” Shatkin said.

Elissa Strauss is a regular contributor to CNN, where she writes about the politics and culture of parenting.

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