Let’s face it, puberty is a total minefield for parents of boys. We’re dealing with an explosive cocktail of relentless ‘pushing back’; an increased desire for independence; and an almost total lack of impulse control; all of which drown out the serious stuff that might be going on behind those slammed doors. So what aren’t they telling us?
There are some areas of concern during puberty that are going to affect your son one way or another. And, because the subject matter is a sensitive one, he is unlikely to want to talk to you about any of it. But if you are fully armed with all of the info you need, you can watch out for any signs and be there to support him. Here’s what you need to know…
As a boy’s testicles grow, the amount of testosterone surging through his body and brain increases too and this can lead to mood swings, bad behaviour, low self-esteem and pushing his parents away. As he clams up and becomes harder and harder to relate to, it’s even more important to talk. Unlike girls, boys are less likely to want to chat openly about personal issues, which is why we have to start the conversations. The more boys chat about the awkward stuff, even for a minute at a time, the less awkward those conversations become.
Teen psychologists everywhere agree on one thing: talking side by side, rather than face to face, is the key. So choose your moment when you are driving, walking, or watching TV. Try to listen more than you talk and let him lead the conversation, even if you don’t get to the point that you wanted to make. And let the radio or the TV be the catalyst for topics. So maybe get comfortable watching YouTubers swear and talk nonsense. If they feel comfortable next to you on the sofa, they’re more likely to open up when you want to chat.
The male genitals can grow to adult-size any time between the ages of 13 and 18. As this happens, the testicles drop (usually the left one drops first) and enlarge, the skin becomes thinner and more bumpy, and they start producing sperm. Around this time, boys experience their first ejaculation. Many boys will bring themselves to ejaculate through inquisitive masturbation. This is quite natural and normal. Watch for signs like an increased need for privacy, and spending longer alone in his room or in the shower. It helps to establish some privacy rules for everyone in the house. Make sure everyone knows to knock before entering a bedroom, for example.
A ‘nocturnal emission’, ‘sleep orgasm’ or ‘wet dream’ also becomes a common occurrence during this time - for some more than others. These are the result of increased blood flow to the genitals during sleep, a surge in teen hormones, and sometimes friction from the bedclothes too. You can help by giving him the space that he needs; setting up a regime of changing the bedclothes regularly; and, if he ever seems worried, by explaining that this is all simply a sign of his body changing and that it is quite normal and nothing to be ashamed of. If he becomes concerned that he is having too many wet dreams, or is at all worried about it, you can make an appointment with your family doctor to see if any medical condition may be causing them.
Erections can occur at the most awkward times as boys go through puberty and this can be a huge source of embarrassment too. You can help by ignoring any occurrences that happen at home and, if you get the chance during a conversation, reassuring him that an erection is simply a surge in hormones during puberty and that he will soon grow out of it.
Towards the end of puberty, when a boy is almost fully sexually mature and his hormones are starting to settle down, his voice will have reached its adult pitch. As his body changes, his larynx grows and the cavities in his nose, throat and sinuses enlarge, allowing his voice to deepen. This can happen any time from the age of 12 or 13 upwards. For some boys it happens gradually and easily, for others the voice can crack and pitch, which can be a knock to his confidence, especially if his peers tease him about it. This can be particularly problematic for boys that sing or perform, as the throat can become quite sore. Not to mention the increased anxiety that their voice will crack on stage. You can help boost his self-esteem by explaining what’s happening and asking friends and siblings not to point out any changes in his voice.
So if your son seems down or distant, there’s a chance that one of these topics is at the root of it. And, while you don’t need to give him a lecture, knowing what’s going on within his body will help you support him and make him feel safe and secure again.