Puberty, Body Odor and Sex: When to Have “the Talk”
July 19, 2022
Puberty can be scary for kids, as their bodies begin to change in surprising, sometimes embarrassing ways. Knowing that it’s coming doesn’t fully prepare kids for the transition they’re about to experience—but it’s a lot better than not knowing.
For that reason, parents should initiate a conversation about puberty with their kids before the process begins. Girls typically start puberty between ages 8 and 13; for boys, the range is 9–14, according to the National Institutes of Health. That means that not long after kids begin grade school, parents should consider looking for casual opportunities to talk about the physical changes that are around the corner.
Puberty may be a time where kids begin to outwardly explore their gender identity, and may even be distressing for gender diverse kids.
“Most changes are normal and healthy. The most important thing to convey is that you are there to support them through those changes and whatever emotions that may bring,” says Noor H. Al-Husayni, M.D., an adolescent medicine specialist at Hackensack University Medical Center.
Cater Discussions to Their Age
The five-year age range during which puberty normally begins covers a lot of childhood, and the way parents discuss puberty-related issues with an 8-year-old should differ quite a bit from the way they would approach the same conversation with a teenager. “Let younger kids know in age-appropriate terms about what’s to come, then keep talking about it as they mature,” says Dr. Al-Husayni.
That doesn’t mean parents need to sit their kids down for multiple editions of “the talk.” It means looking for opportunities to start small conversations sparked by, for example, children’s questions and observations.
Here’s a general guide to discussions by age:
- Under 2: Use the correct terminology for all body parts, including genitalia.
- Ages 2–5: Teach your kids about boundaries and consent—what is and is not appropriate when it comes to touching or being touched by other people.
- Ages 6–8: Introduce an age-appropriate book to explore the early signs of puberty, including growth spurts, body odor, acne and cracking voices
- Ages 9–12: Normalize conversations about changes during puberty related to sexuality, such as when girls get their periods and begin to menstruate, and when boys first experience erection and nighttime ejaculation.
- Teenagers: Teens need honest conversations about birth control, safe sex and healthy relationships.
Normalize the ConversationAmidst a developmental stage in which kids are often focused on fitting in and impressing their friends, they’re faced with changes that can make it difficult to put their best foot forward. If you’re worried about starting the conversation too soon, remember that your kids probably are already learning from playground conversations, observations, and social media. It’s very likely that you will be demystifying subjects that kids are already thinking about.
“There is so much about this stage of development that is unfamiliar, awkward and uncomfortable,” says Dr. Al-Husayni. “These conversations can be awkward for parents, too, but it’s crucial to make space for them so that children are prepared for the changes they will experience.”
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our source: Noor H. Al-Husayni, M.D.
- To make an appointment with Dr. Al-Husayni or a pediatric specialist near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
- Learn more about children’s health services at Hackensack Meridian Health
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.