One day, you may walk past your son's room and catch an odor somewhere between rotten cheese and body odor.
If your child is between the age of 10 and 14, you probably have now entered the phase of parenting called "puberty."
Congratulations! Not only have you navigated midnight feedings, thousands of diaper changes, temper tantrums, first days of school and time outs; but now, you get to experience and guide your son through one of the most transformational periods of his life.
Adolescence is the period when puberty begins and the full height of adulthood is reached.
On average, puberty starts between 10 and 14 years of age and continues up through ages 19-21. During this phase of development a boy is learning a significant amount about his body and starting to develop his sexual identity. As a parent, helping your child navigate this in a positive way will help ensure a healthy and responsible adult life.
Stages of Puberty
One of the first signs of puberty is when the boy's testicles begin to enlarge. The scrotum may appear tight as the skin making up the scrotum hasn't expanded yet.
Soon after (up to a year after the testicles enlarge) the scrotum will develop to become larger. As the scrotum enlarges the skin will darken and become thinner, allowing the scrotum to expand and contract for temperature regulation. By this time, testicles are creating sperm and a boy is fertile.
Up to this point, most girls are taller than boys. Somewhere around age 12-14, boys will begin to grow significantly. Body proportions will change and muscles will develop. They may go from a size 8 shoe to size 10 over the summer.
During this period of time, surges in testosterone are common. Boys may be challenged with uncontrollable anger or start experiencing strong desires for sexual pleasure. These desires may or may not include others.
Your son will begin to have difficulty maintaining a consistent tone in his voice. You may notice his voice will change octaves mid-sentence, or when he gets excited and increases his volume, his voice will crack. These are all normal changes in your son's physical being.
Significant hormone changes will change the chemical nature of your child's body. These changes can cause a number of noticeable characteristics. You may notice unappealing odors from your son's room. His shoes may smell much worse. You may notice body odor and greasier skin and hair. Changes in your child's hygiene practices may need to occur and may warrant some coaching on your behalf. Sit down with your son and explain this is natural and share your observations in a non-shaming, non-judgmental way. Offer to choose new cleaning and odor protection products and offer to let him know if you notice unappealing odors on him. Show your son how to properly keep his room clean and odor-free. For some boys, no matter how well they wash their faces, acne will be visible. For treatment options, consult your physician or ask for a dermatology consultation.
Secondary hair growth
Your boy may begin to notice fine hairs sprouting at the base of their penis and on their scrotum. These will eventually become coarse, darker and thicker. Hair will appear on their armpits, patches on the face and possibly his chest area. Eventually the pubic area and upper thighs can become covered in hair. For some boys, a trail of hair can stretch up over the abdomen and into their chest region. Secondary hair growth can continue well into a man's twenties.
Wet dreams/nighttime emissions & masturbation
Boys (and girls) have been known to manually stimulate their genitals in utero. It's not uncommon for boys to discover very early on that touching and rubbing their penis feels good. It's important to be careful not to shame your child when redirecting them at an early age regarding self pleasure. As a teen going through puberty, your son will have questions, concerns and fear about what is happening. Having understanding parents to talk to is important. Explaining to your teen that this is normal (and natural behavior) is important as to help avoid any negative judgements about sexual development and sexuality.
Shortly after the testicles enlarge and the scrotum begins to soften and expand, the penis will begin to change shape. First, the length of the penis will increase. For some boys, this may be minimal and for others it may be substantial. Involuntary erections are a common occurrence and rarely have anything to do with sexual arousal. Theories suggest that spikes of testosterone can trigger the erection process involuntarily causing inopportune erections.
Some concerns a parent may want to address with their son at this time are: Not all penises are the same and contrary to popular belief, and sexual function is not dependent on size. In addition, flaccid penis size does not indicate overall size/shape of an erect penis. It is also very natural for boys to be curious about their peers' penis shapes and sizes. Ensuring your child that this is natural can help minimize embarrassment or self shaming when confronted with these desires.
About 2 years after puberty begins (around age 14), the penis will begin to gain girth. Hair may or may not grow onto the base and shaft of the penis and the scrotum may also be covered with pubic hair. It's possible their penis will continue to change shape and size up to their 20's.
Once a boy enters puberty (when their testicles enlarge) they become fertile. Between hormonal influence, social and peer pressure, boys (and girls) are pressured into sexual interactions at younger ages. It's important to have very frank conversations, based on facts, regarding how babies are conceived. Learning this information from a responsible adult is necessary before they get misinformation from peers or media. Schools offer sex education classes; however, these do not cover all aspects of sex. You can also ask your doctor to help educate your child if you prefer.
This is an exciting time for you and your son and you have a front row seat in his progression into becoming a man. You have a tremendous opportunity to help shape his idea of gender, sex and how he feels about his own body. Take advantage of this one-time chance to set him up for a healthy future.