When it comes to talking to kids about sex, intimate relationships and body parts, some adults stop being their usual rational, clear thinking selves. The reality is many of us were taught by key adults in our lives at a tender age that these topics are embarrassing, awkward and or to be avoided. It was then that we learnt to be uncomfortable talking about these perfectly natural, albeit private, things. But puberty is a significant milestone in people's lives and there are still recent, shocking statistics that tell us things like 10% of girls start their periods without knowing what they are or that a third of parents/carers tell their daughters nothing about periods. Leaving schools to impart this information is also unreliable. Sex education varies majorly in both quantity and quality from school to school.
Puberty is a significant transition in life and for many not overly enjoyable. Having trusted adults who are prepared to talk things through can help children at least know what to expect and we all feel better when we have knowledge of what's happening. The changes of puberty are not just physical however, there are discussions that can be included in your chats with children about puberty and there is much evidence to say that these conversations need to happen before its onset.
The following list can be used as a guide for discussions with your child about puberty. It is always best of they hear accurate and supportive information from you than if they are left to pick up random bits of information from a variety of sources.
What children could learn about puberty:
- The details of the physical changes of puberty. There are many books that cover these. (I will post leaflets that could be used at another time).
- Puberty can start anywhere between the ages of 8 and 14. People can feel awkward about being the first or the last to start puberty. No one should ever make personal comments about the changes someone is experiencing.
- The hormones rushing around your body during puberty can make you feel really happy one minute and grumpy or tearful the next. The hormones do eventually settle down.
- The practicalities of dealing with periods and wet dreams.
- The names for external sexual organs.
- How puberty brings a lot of change in a relatively short amount of time but everyone does go through it. It is usually a good idea to find someone to talk to about any concerns you might have about the changes you are experiencing. Most changes take a while to get used to.
- Puberty can be a time when you feel really self-conscious but you can be reassured that you are likely to be the only person that has noticed whatever it is that is making you feel this way.
- Many young people wonder if they are ‘normal’ during puberty. This can be part of adapting to a changing body.
- Many young people find that the relationships they have with their parents/carers changes during puberty. This can sometimes cause rows – usually because the young person wants more freedom and choice and parents/carers still want to keep their child safe.
- Puberty is a time when young people start to take more notice of their friends than their family. They often develop new interests.
- During puberty, young people often start to fancy other people. This can be something that can cause distress, worry or very intense feelings. It is a good idea to talk concerns through with a trusted friend or adult.
- What masturbation is and that it does not harm you.
- During puberty, you need to start to pay more attention to personal hygiene. Many people start to shower or bath every day, change their clothes more frequently, wear deodorant and wash their hair more often.
- Puberty is often the time when you start to explore your sexuality. Some people are straight, some gay, some bisexual, pansexual, demisexual etc
- Puberty can also be a time when gender identity has greater significance.