Puberty and Tween Boys

Typically, puberty in boys tends to happen between the ages of 9 and 14. By the time a boy gets to this age, it’s not unusual for parents to no longer see him naked and therefore the first signs can go unnoticed.

The first signs will be an increased size of the testicles, followed a few months later by the growth of pubic hair; the testicles will continue to grow, as will the penis size along with more pubic and armpit hair. More noticeable changes will start to occur, breakouts on the skin eg, spots or acne, body odour, the deepening of the voice, the development of more physical muscle e.g, the broadening of the shoulders, the ability to achieve an erection and ejaculate (and in some cases boys may experience wet dreams). Unlike girls, the first phase of puberty is unlikely to accompany the major growth spurt. This is likely to happen a few years later and starts with enlargement of the hands and feet which is then followed by the rest of the body. The body will continue with these changes and typically complete them in three to four years. This is followed by the development of chest and facial hair.

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Emotional changes

Along with the physical changes, there are also emotional changes. Interests in the opposite sex, mood swings, anxiety or even excitement about the physical changes to his body. He may become shy or nervous around girls or may become flirtatious. He may also start to question his sexuality. This is often a time where children will identify more with the future and suffer concerns regarding the future responsibilities in their lives.

As a parent or carer, you can help him through all of these changes. Talk to him about the changes which will happen/are happening to his body and why they are necessary. Explain to him that he’s not alone. Tell him that his dad went through similar changes and so will all his friends too.

He needs to understand that he can’t control his voice changes. Some boys feel more in control by chewing gum, or eating sweets to keep it lubricated, and if that’s the case, it’s ok to use that as a crutch. He may not even realise that his voice is changing, however, he also may get embarrassed if his voice cracks at some inopportune moment. Let him know that this is only temporary and will stop once his larynx has finished growing, however, when it happens, if he stops, clears his throat and waits a short while, and then continues, that will help.

Another key developmental change is the introduction to ejaculation. This often happens for the first time at night in their sleep. Known also as “wet dreams” or “nocturnal emissions” this is a very common experience for many boys who are in the middle of puberty. It’s not uncommon for a young boy to think he wet the bed when this happens, or he may not even realise it’s happened. Although perfectly normal, they may find the whole thing rather embarrassing. It’s really important for parents to explain that this is a normal part of growing up and that having it happen doesn’t mean they have done anything wrong. It’s also worth agreeing with your son that if this happens, he can remove the bedding and put it in the washing without risk of embarrassing questions.

In all of this, it should be explained to your son that you love him very much and while it’s a scary time, you’ll be next to him every step of the way or at least as much as he wants you to be!

How did you, or how do you plan on handling the topic of puberty with your tween? What advice can you offer parents going through this now? Are boys worse than girls?