A Parent’s Guide to Boys’ Puberty | ParentingU Podcast

Apr 11, 2024 | Children's Health

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Physical changes during puberty for boys may be less visible than for girls, but the developmental process from childhood to adolescence and on to adulthood is equally significant.

Brett Hutchinson, MD, Board Certified pediatrician with Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health, joins us in this episode of ParentingU to provide insight into how parents can support their sons through puberty.

Recognizing the Signs of Puberty

Puberty for boys starts before physical changes. 

“Some behavioral differences might start showing up a year or two before physical puberty happens,” Dr. Hutchinson says.

Parents may notice subtle differences in their sons’ attitudes and moods even before the onset of visible changes. These early signs, such as increased backtalk or mood swings, signal the beginning stages of hormonal shifts.

“The first true starting physical change of puberty for boys is testicle size,” Dr. Hutchinson says. “Pubic hair is an early sign, and a growth spurt is another common occurrence at the beginning of puberty.” Other signs, such as acne and body odor, may also emerge gradually. Understanding these initial developments helps parents prepare for the journey ahead.

Identifying Red Flags

Puberty can start for boys early as 9 – meaning pubic hair, underarm hair and “puberty-worthy” body odor – and be considered normal. Puberty for boys normally starts no later than 14.

Drastic changes in behavior, such as withdrawal from social activities or sudden weight fluctuations, may signal concerns that would warrant a conversation with your pediatrician. 

Another sign to look for is a sudden change in grooming habits. A kid who didn’t have any problems taking care of their hygiene and suddenly won’t shower or leave their room may be struggling and need more support from their parents.

The highs and lows of emotions are a normal part of teens’ development.

“Teenagers are more emotional and don’t make the best choices,” Dr. Hutchinson says. “Sometimes they can make irrational choices even when they know what the right answer should be.”

There’s More Than One Way to Be ‘Normal’

“As the body starts to change, most preteens and teens become very body-conscious,” Dr. Hutchinson says. Boys develop and grow at different rates, and that can be hard on both the late bloomers and those who develop more quickly.

“The things that stand out for body concerns for boys tend to be height because it’s so important to sports,” Dr. Hutchinson says. Development of body hair and voice changes also happen at different times for different kids.

“It’s going to happen,” Dr. Hutchinson says. “In my visits I use a lot of growth curves to tell boys in particular where they are on the chart and how their dots fall in line with the graph. Sometimes I can reassure them.”

Boys Can Be Moody, Too

“Understand that they’re feeling things they’ve never felt before, and they’re experiencing emotions at an intensity they haven’t felt before,” he says. “Let them know that’s normal.”

Dr. Hutchinson encourages parents to be ready to learn how to deal with those extra sad and extra angry emotions that didn’t exist for their kids before puberty. Validate your child’s feelings and concerns while offering reassurance that the changes are normal and a part of growing up. 

Whether it’s addressing body image issues or reassuring late bloomers, fostering a supportive environment is crucial in helping boys navigate puberty with confidence.

Addressing Growing Pains

One common phenomenon associated with puberty is growing pains. Although not all kids will experience it, these discomforts typically occur during periods of rapid growth, showing up as leg pain during the night.

“The biggest bones are usually the targets for growing pains,” Dr. Hutchinson says. Growing pains should respond to either some Motrin, Tylenol or other basic treatments.

“Growing pain should never limit kids from their daytime activities,” Dr. Hutchinson says. If a child is liming or not able to participate in their normal routines, check in with your provider.

In this ParentingU episode, we also connected with Karli Boggs, MD, Board Certified gynecologist with Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group,  about what girls experience during puberty, including first periods. Read more from Dr. Boggs.

Promoting Healthy Habits

Rest and balanced nutrition are key throughout life, but during puberty bodies require more sleep to support rapid physical development.

“It’s actual physiology that a teenager’s body would tell them to go to sleep at midnight and sleep until noon the next day,” Dr. Hutchinson says. Unfortunately, that schedule doesn’t conform to the way we function in society, so it can be a struggle for some who may have trouble going to sleep at night or getting up in the morning.

Parents can help their tweens and teens through this by modeling healthy sleep habits and fostering an environment conducive to rest and relaxation.

“When bodies are growing faster, they need more calories,” Dr. Hutchinson says. “So, it’s not unusual for a teenage boy to be able to eat a whole pizza or multiple hamburgers and not gain the weight adults would eating the same way.”

He advises parents to help their teen sons make sure their extra calories are coming from healthier options, including calcium-rich foods.

“Growing bones are bones that can take in calcium,” Dr. Hutchinson says. “We want to be able to supply a growing body with as much calcium as it can take. So, I encourage teens and preteens to drink milk and get dairy in general.”

Evolving Conversations about Puberty

Access to information online about how bodies develop can be a double-edged sword.

“It’s always been said to parents they need to have ‘the talk’ with your children before they hit puberty because we want them prepared and not have surprises,” Dr. Hutchinson says. But with kids – and their friends – having Internet and social media access earlier, they may be exposed to information before they’re ready or their parents have a chance to explain it.

“Be more prepared to start that discussion early enough for each individual child,” Dr. Hutchinson says. Use age-appropriate language, but not nicknames for body parts. And be prepared to make your family values very clear. 

Establishing open communication, whether with a parent or another trusted adult, will help boys navigate puberty with confidence and resilience.

Have questions about your tween or teen’s healthcare needs? Connect with an exceptional pediatric provider. Find more episodes of ParentingU wherever you get your podcasts, including YouTube.

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