Many of us have tried to broach the subject – or topics – of puberty with our tweens, only to find that they are already too uncomfortable to engage.
Parents of younger children – think preschool and early elementary school – can make puberty a regular fixture in family discussions and book collections long before bodily changes are on the horizon.
“If you present these topics when the kids are very young in an age appropriate way, then when they’re at the age where it starts to become really relevant, they don’t feel so embarrassed and awkward. ‘Comfortable about it,’ said Lotus.
If you wait for the precipice of puberty, she said, “you end up introducing tons of content and a lot of new languages and ideas. It’s so much harder to make these conversations comfortable for parents and kids. . “
Become your child’s source of trust
How do we do that? First, avoid the idea of sitting down for a single, gendered, planned conversation between birds and bees, Lotus suggested.
Replace that one conversation with a series of age-appropriate discussions, whenever opportunities arise, about male and female puberty, regardless of your child’s sex or gender identity. It can happen when kids ask about parents’ bodies, when problems arise in TV shows or books, or when you are baking cookies or driving somewhere together and have a captive audience.
“We start when children speak verbally with the proper names of body parts, and then, a few years later, we deepen our knowledge of what bodies do and how it relates to babies,” she said. “A few years later, we have more meaningful conversations about gender expression, roles and identity.” By the time the children approach puberty, “they have accumulated all of this knowledge.
Due to the work already done by adults, children will understand their parents or guardians as reliable sources of information, who can tell them about increasingly complex matters far beyond bodily changes, including healthy relationships, consent and pleasure. This means that adults should not stray from these topics, or remain discreet when asked about them.
“If you are able to walk through this wall of discomfort then you have a much better chance, when your child begins to explore sexually with partners, to have open and honest conversations to keep them safe and emotionally informed,” Lotus said. “It sends a message to your kids that there is nothing shameful or secret about sex and sexuality and that it doesn’t make you uncomfortable.”
Belt against Google
If we don’t, it is likely that our children will look for the information elsewhere, usually by searching on the computer. “This is how an 8-year-old ends up Google searching for words two clicks away from porn,” Lotus said.
This is actually what happened to Nikki Fragala Barnes, who forgot to talk about puberty with her second son, assuming he had absorbed a lot from his older brother by the age of 10. Instead, he went looking for himself and ended up seeing some pretty wild designs of the Disney characters in risky poses.
“He wanted to explore, to want to experience and to be aware that there was more in the world when it came to sexuality than he already knew,” Barnes said.
The experience was positive, opening the door for them to difficult but rewarding discussions about sexuality and consent. But, Lotus said, ideally, “You really want to be the one in there and write the story before anyone can.”
All puberty for all children
Nowadays there are many options for puberty education: online courses, movies, books. But many of them are still unisex chats, only girls learn the rules or only boys learn nighttime shows, for example.
Another reason to start puberty discussions earlier, and to teach all children about all aspects of puberty, is to make these conversations easy for children of all genders and gender identities to discuss together. , to help them all be more respectful and accept each other.
“If we haven’t had conversations with mixed people from the start, if we start trying to do this around puberty, that’s exactly when kids feel self-awareness and self-awareness. so magnified that it becomes much more difficult to do, ”said Lotus.
If we separate the puberty talk by biological sex, Lotus says, “it creates a veil of secrecy and shame, and this feeling that everything that is going on with them is dirty and rude.” It also excludes trans and non-binary children.
She finds that because childhood is already so gendered and the differences between the sexes and gender identities are so accentuated, boys tend to try to create diversions with humor. “Often for the girls it’s more of a withdrawal,” said Lotus. “They are silent and withdraw into themselves.”
One of the reasons Lauren Rowello, a mother of two aged 8 and 11, decided to talk to them early about puberty was to make sure they felt comfortable coming to see her with her. partner later.
“I was hoping that they felt empowered to make the choices that were right for them, that they could talk to us about those choices instead of going after things on their own,” she said. She wanted to avoid this kind of secrecy and shame with her two children whom she had experienced abundantly as a child.
“We really started these conversations when they were really tiny,” she said. “It was because they didn’t want them to feel like my body was something strange and different and something else to my kids, who won’t be having their period.”
Normalizing menstruation as a human experience, and not as something strange and rude, she said, “will hopefully help them to be good allies and companions for people who have similar experiences. to me”. And understanding how their own body works “will hopefully keep them from feeling ashamed and confused about their own body.”
For Rowello, talking about puberty in a gender-neutral way is also extremely important. His wife appeared as trans and his child as non-binary as they explored how to talk about puberty with their children.
“I wanted to build a better mousetrap when it comes to puberty books, one more up-to-date and current that reflects like the world we live in now,” Loveless said. “It’s been so divided for so long, where it’s still the boys ‘book for puberty and the girls’ book for puberty. It is in itself a language just plain old.”
Her book is comprehensive and inclusive, covering, for example, how young men can develop breasts during puberty – sometimes temporarily. There are children depicted with grandparents, foster parents or guardians, not just parents, and pictures of children with hearing aids or with vitiligo.
“This book was written to be as inclusive as possible,” Loveless said. “There are more lives being lived out there, and we are helping expose children to that.”
It’s never too late to start
Rowello said her 11-year-old son spoke openly about his own body changes and puberty-related topics in general. “These conversations are the reason he feels really comfortable and speaking well. He’s comfortable with his body and he’s open to talking about what’s going on and asking questions.”
If you haven’t started early, don’t despair. Lotus said to keep trying respectfully and in small doses.
“Your child is most likely going to act like they’d rather die than tell you about these things,” she said. “It’s incredibly important that you keep pushing and do it anyway.”