Maybe it’s just me, but watching my son go through puberty was different than my two daughters. With my girls, it seemed more gradual, but with my baby boy, every change was like a lightning bolt.
Like, one day, he woke up and I was sure he grew three inches overnight. Or when his voice went from sounding like a little kid to squeaky to baritone in the span of a day.
But it wasn’t just the physical changes that startled me. He started pulling away and talked to me less. He grumbled a lot. I knew less and less about what was going on in his head and heart. I knew my little boy was still in there, but there was a tsunami of changes happening.
To be honest, it was a little scary. While the relationship with my girls went through many ups and downs, the one with my son just went dark for a period of time, and it was unnerving. There are some things I wish I had known that might have helped me process it a bit better.
When do boys start puberty?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, boys start puberty any time between the ages of nine and 14, usually about two years later than girls. It’s more common for boys to be late bloomers, so it’s essential to keep in mind that every person develops at their own pace. Race and ethnicity also play a factor, as Black and Hispanic males tend to begin puberty earlier than Caucasian boys.
Many medical professionals state that if a boy exhibits signs of puberty before age nine or has not shown any signs after age 14, you should talk to your healthcare provider.
What are signs your son is going through puberty?
Many parents wonder how they will know that their son is going through puberty, and there are some tell-tale physical first signs of puberty, including:
- Growth of pubic hair, other body hair, and facial hair.
- Enlargement of testicles and penis.
- Muscle growth.
- Growth spurt.
- Deepening of the voice.
Many boys become extremely self-conscious during this time, and while many think self-esteem is more of a problem with teen girls, it is important to do things to build up your son’s self-esteem as well. They will also be comparing themselves to others, face body issues, and feel awkward during this time.
What I wish I would have known when my son went through puberty
This doesn’t encompass everything, but hopefully, this will ease your mind a bit when/if you encounter these situations:
1. They will smell.
The most tell-tale sign that your son is going through puberty is a strong body odor. I can only describe it as stinky cheese mixed with sweat from a thousand men. There were a few times when I drove a car full of 8th-grade boys home from lacrosse practice when my eyes literally watered, and I may have gagged a few times because of the stench.
Grab several deodorants and body washes to stash in his room, shower, book bag, sports bag, etc., and encourage him to choose his own. Getting him invested in his hygiene is an important life skill. And don’t assume he can smell himself.
2. They may get angry and volatile
Puberty is when the teen brain is developing at a rapid pace, and understanding the development of the pre-frontal cortex and the amygdala can explain why it’s challenging for boys to control their emotions and impulses (for a great breakdown on the teen brain, read this: The Best Way to Understand Your Teen’s Behavior Is to Start with Their Brain.)
We also need to keep in mind that during puberty, the body is flooded with hormones, including testosterone, which forces many emotional changes that can be hard for them to process. While girls sometimes get overly emotional and cry, boys may tend to get angry and lash out.
One of the best things we can do for our sons during this time is to help them learn how to process and understand their emotions. We need to help our boys understand their positive and negative emotions, identify the triggers that cause rage and anger, offer appropriate ways for them to cope, and encourage them to build solid friendships and deep connections that fill them up.
As parents, we need to give our young boys space and not take their behavior personally, especially their mood swings. We need to try to stay connected to them on their terms during this time, and remain curious about the why behind their behavior.
3. You will never have enough food
I remember my husband telling a story about when he was around 14, there was a time he could not get full, and he seriously contemplated eating a stick of butter.
Boys can experience massive growth spurts and body changes during this time that make them insatiable. You will never have enough pizza or chips or burgers during this time. Plan on your grocery bill doubling.
4. Sex will be on his mind. A lot.
There is a reason you need to respect your teen son’s privacy during this time–and knock before entering. Sex may consume a lot of your son’s time during puberty, and it is all normal.
There will be a lot of times when you need to give him some space to figure out what’s happening with his body. His sheets may be stained with semen from uncontrollable wet dreams during his sleep, he may get erections at the most inconvenient times, and you may catch him on websites that perhaps he should not be on at his age. You also may see him adjusting himself or even rubbing against a few things on occasion.
Again, it’s all normal.
While your son may rather stab his eyeballs out rather than talk to you about sex, it’s important you convey to him that this is all normal and you are not judging him for it. Shaming him about these feelings or his actions is the best way to push him away farther.
The beginning of puberty (and perhaps even prior if you think your son is mature enough to handle it) is when you should talk to your son about pornography, healthy relationships, and other related topics, such as birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, and consent It’s also a time to reassure him that he will (eventually) gain control of his thoughts and body responses. While we think both parents should talk about these issues, sometimes an adult man can provide the comfort your son need to know that these issues are temporary.
It’s also critical to acknowledge that you understand that he’s going through a lot during this time, but remind him that he is not invisible. Let him know if he is feeling something happening, it’s okay to excuse himself for a few minutes without getting grilled about where he is going or what he is doing. Let’s just say the summer my son turned 13, he spent a lot of time in the ocean when we were at the beach.
You should also talk to him about Internet privacy and the dangers of taking or receiving nude photos. Because many teens are struggling with impulse control and are fascinated with their developing bodies, there are times when our kids forget that not everyone values privacy in the same way. Continue to remind your sons (and daughters) that there could be serious legal consequences when exchanging photos with other people. You should also talk to them about sexual exploitation and sextortion (digital blackmail).
5. They are hyper-aware of their appearance.
Because I had two girls before my son, I admit that I adhered to gender norms when it came to how much they would care about their appearance. I (wrongly) assumed it would be my daughters who were obsessed with their looks.
My son was very specific with his appearance, from his clothes to his hairstyle to his sneakers. Like his sisters, he had acne, and we struggled to get a handle on his pimples and other minor issues when it came to his looks. I learned to talk about any issue with his appearance matter-of-factly, without judgment or criticism. Whether it was managing his breakouts, orthodontic issues, hygiene or when his pants could barely stay up because he was so gangly, I kept my commentary to myself. Instead, I simply asked if he would like to set up some doctors appointments to address an issue or offered to take him shopping or look online for some new jeans. Teen boys (and girls) need our encouragement so much more than our criticism or ridicule.
One weird thing that happened to my son in the middle of puberty was his breasts swelled. Called gynecomastia, this can happen in one or both breasts and usually resolves itself in a few months or up to two years. It is typically the result of a hormonal imbalance. We bought some loser shirts for my son during this time, but he was extremely self-conscious about it. Fortunately, it only lasted a few months in his case.
6. He will push you away.
Because he was my youngest, this hurt. If my son wasn’t with his friends, he wanted to be left alone in his room. He was always my little buddy, so this part was tough for me–and I had to learn to get over it or lose him entirely during this time.
Because I’m only human, I did resort to some bribery to stay connected. I lured him out of his lair with chocolate chip cookies, encouraged him to invite his friends over for pizza (look for coupons), and learned how to play Fortnight (I even won a few times.) Staying connected to your teen son may not look like what you thought it would, but there are ways to do it if you get creative and want it bad enough.
7. Puberty is a process
I read once that puberty is a process, not an event. With three kids each born three years apart, it felt like puberty went on in our house for 50 years!
Seriously, though, puberty can be tough on kids and parents alike. It’s important for parents to remain flexible and that many times, your kids don’t understand why they are acting a certain way, either.
If you refrain from judgment and excessive criticism, give them space, love them unconditionally, and work on managing your own emotions, you can get to the other side and have a strong and beautiful relationship with your grown son.
Helpful books for when your son is going through puberty
There are many great resources for when your son is going through puberty to help you through this time. Some of our favorites include:
This Is So Awkward: Modern Puberty ExplainedThe Boys’ Guide to Growing Up: the best-selling puberty guide for boysEverything You Always Wanted to Know About Puberty―and Shouldn’t Be Googling: For Curious BoysUnlocking The Mysteries Of Boys’ Puberty: 7 Facts Every Parent Needs To Know About Their Teen’s Body Stages, Transformation, and Hormone ChangesAmerican Medical Association Boy’s Guide to Becoming a TeenThe Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate AdolescentsHe’s Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe In HimselfGrow Up and Love Your Body!: The Complete Boys Guide to Growing Up Age 8-12 incl. Body-Care and Self-Esteem SpecialDecoding Boys: New Science Behind the Subtle Art of Raising SonsBoy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You
Parenting teens and tweens is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone. These posts may help:
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