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Let's Talk About... Puberty

17 Aug 2015

2  let's talk about puberty (2)

Talking about the birds and the bees with your kid might be a little awkward but it’s an important conversation to start early.

Conversations you need to have with your kid even if you don’t have all the answers. 

Some parents talk about it, others don’t. Some mumble vague advice, while others use an anatomical diagram as a reference for their kids. Talking about the birds and the bees with their kids is no easy feat for most parents, especially in Asia.  

As embarrassing or difficult as it might be for you to discuss matters of sexuality with your kids, such conversations shouldn’t be a one-off once kids hit puberty. Your child needs to know that you’re there for him as he experiences the various stages of puberty.

Even though students take Sexuality Education classes at school from Primary 5 to Junior College, parents should do their part to help their children make wise and informed decisions. Some parents tend to wait until their children approach them with questions. However, some kids might be reluctant to do so. It would surely come as a relief to them if their parents initiated the conversation.

A Senior Specialist from MOE’s Guidance Branch offers parents a few tips on how to approach this tricky subject.

Q: Why have this talk with your kid?

A: Puberty is a milestone in a child’s life. It can be stressful and confusing, and sometimes even frightening for a child. You need to be proactive in assuring and supporting your child so that he can have confidence in navigating and managing the changes. 

Not all of the information our children get comes from reliable sources. It’s important that parents share their values, beliefs and views on sex with their children.

Q: When should you have this chat?

A: On average, for girls, puberty begins between the ages of 10 and 12 and lasts for a few years. For boys, puberty starts a little later, around 11 to 12, and they may still be growing in college. As you notice physical changes in your child, talk to them about the developments they’re experiencing and their feelings about them.

It doesn’t matter whether mum or dad takes on this conversation. What’s key is that your child is comfortable talking to you and you show him that it’s normal for adults to be knowledgeable about the development of both boys and girls.

Your child may ask you some questions and ask your spouse other questions. If you’re a single parent, your child may ask you most things but turn to another trusted adult for other issues.  

Q: How do you start this conversation?

A: Check with your child what she’s learned from the Sexuality Education lessons at Primary 5. Be prepared to listen and learn from your child, and be prepared for your child to ask you sensitive questions.

There are teachable moments which arise in the course of the day that can serve as good platforms for this conversation. For example, when you come across digitally altered images in magazines, on TV or online, point out to your child how unrealistic these images are and the negative stereotypes they reinforce.

Q: Any specific issues to talk about?

A: For girls, they need to know when to start wearing a bra and how to prepare for the onset of menstruation. It can be upsetting if your daughter finds that she’s the first one in her class to wear a bra and she may also be worried that she may get her first period while at school. She might feel alone and awkward, or like everyone’s watching her. Mums or a trusted female adult can help girls be prepared by teaching them how to use sanitary pads or tampons and how to manage cramps if they come.

For the boys, it’s important to tell them about “wet dreams” before they happen. Otherwise they may be surprised and upset if they don’t know what they are. It’s also common for erections (spontaneous) to happen at any time. Boys may worry about having them in public. We can assure them that these erections will only last a few minutes and a well-placed school bag can prevent others from noticing.

Q: What do kids really want to know

A: They may think that puberty changes them as a person. Tell them that puberty changes their bodies, not them as a person.

They worry about being normal as they go through puberty. They notice the changes in the girls and some of the boys in their class and worry when nothing is happening to them. Advise them that puberty changes vary from one person to another and there can be significant variations in the timing of the changes in each person.

They may also face body image issues as teens tend to feel awkward, self-conscious and insecure about their looks. They may spend lots of time trying to be like their friends.

You need to assure your children that they and their bodies are normal. Help them understand that every person is different in their puberty changes and being different is normal. Most importantly, tell them that you love them (and they need lots of reassurance) and you are there to provide help and support so that they don’t feel alone as they go through it. Encourage them to focus on cultivating their personal talents, skills and interests and see themselves as unique individuals.