Question: How can I help prepare my son for the physical, emotional and psychological changes that accompany the onset of adolescence?


It’s important to understand the difference between the kind of conversation you’re contemplating and mere sex education. As your boy approaches puberty, you’re going to have to shift gears from talking about sex in general to more specific briefings on the subject of his own sexuality. Whether you make this a specific discussion or include it as part of a more extensive explanation of what lies ahead during the adolescent years, you will want your son to be ready for the physical changes that are about to take place.

Changes to be aware of

Along with hormonal and sexual developments, there will be rapid growth of bone and muscle, although the timing rates may vary greatly from individual to individual. As a result, an eighth-grade gym class may contain skinny boys with alto voices who are competing and taking showers with peers who are hairy, muscular and highly intimidating. Remind your son that, whatever the particular timing may be in his case, the transition to adulthood will eventually be complete.

In terms of specifics, a boy should be aware that he can expect to experience deepening of the voice, enlargement of the genitals and new hair growth. You should also inform him about the likelihood that he will have an unexpected emission of seminal fluid during the night (the "wet dream"), and that this is not a sign of disease or moral failure. Unexpected erections, especially those that occur at inopportune times, may be another source of concern. Some boys also develop a small, button-size nodule of breast tissue directly under the nipple. This is a common response to changing hormones, although it may cause a minor panic when first discovered. If this breast tissue appears to be increasing in size (a phenomenon known as gynecomastia), have it checked out by your son’s doctor.

At some point (probably more than once) during these years, you will need to deal with the subject of masturbation. As children approach adolescence, you will have to make a judgment call on what to say about the significance of self-stimulation after puberty arrives. Your approach to this issue will need to be both tactful and realistic. Bottom line: masturbation should not play a major role in your son’s life, either as a source of relentless guilt or as a frequent and persistent habit that may displace healthy sexual relations in the future.

It’s also important to discuss with your son his increasing interest in the opposite sex. He’ll also need to be prepared to deal with attention from girls if and when it occurs. This is an important time to review specific guidelines, and perhaps a little street wisdom, about relationships, affectionate touching, the progressive nature of sexual contact and the importance of God's design in saving sex for marriage.

Have a series of conversations

Ideally, you should plan on having a series of conversations with your prepubescent boy, perhaps at age ten or eleven. Some parents plan a special weekend away from home in order to have some undistracted, one-on-one time during which these discussions can take place. If you are a single mother who feels uncomfortable discussing these matters with your son, consider seeking help from an adult male who not only shares your values, but has enough rapport to talk with him about these topics.

An excellent resource for parents approaching this challenging phase in their career is the Launch Into the Teen Years video curriculum. This resource is available through Focus on the Family Canada and can be ordered via our online store. If you’d like to discuss any of these concepts at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to contact our counselling department. Our counsellors are available to speak with you Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.

Excerpted from The Complete Book of Baby and Child Care published by Tyndale House Publishers. © 1997, 2007, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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