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My soon-to-be 10-year-old son came to me yesterday and said, “Mom, I have a spider bite on my nose. It hurts.”
That was no spider bite. It was a pimple. A BIG one. His first.
“That, my friend, is a pimple,” I said with a lighthearted giggle. “Welcome to puberty!”
He wasn’t amused. In fact, he seemed upset. “No, it’s not,” he insisted as he scurried up the stairs.
Oh, my sweet boy. He’s always been so shy when it comes to anything relating to changing bodies or birds and bees. I have a hard time talking to him about anything of a highly personal or sensitive nature — he’s uncomfortable with all of it. And while I can be, too, puberty is as natural as learning to walk, talk, loose baby teeth, or anything else.
And it’s not like he doesn’t know what to expect — at least a little. He has a 14-year-old brother. A brother with pimples and smelly armpit hair. A brother who shaves and has a man’s voice. A brother with moods and — gasp! — a girlfriend.
But maybe that’s what’s making him nervous: puberty in action.
He’s seen it. He’s smelled it (we all have). And he knows it’s coming. The thing is, we have to be able to talk about it. And we have to be able to talk about it in a way that educates, prepares, and maybe even inspires him to take on this next stage of development with pride. Having been through my own rather reluctant puberty, I know how all this feels. It’s uncertain. It’s confusing. And it can be really embarrassing for tender kids. But that doesn’t mean puberty is something to be ignored.
As a parent, I don’t want to look the other way, which is why I’m so thankful I discovered Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys by Dr. Cara Natterson, a board-certified pediatrician, mother of two, and author of American Girl’s The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls series. Written specifically with boys ages 8 and older in mind, this book balances education with humor and fantastic illustrations to prepare our growing boys for the physical and emotional changes puberty brings, all in a relatable, friendly manner. And while all that is so important and appreciated as a parent, what I love most is how the book is designed to start conversations.
I’ve always been a big believer in talking early and talking often. According to Natterson, “The goal of … Guy Stuff is to provide good, basic information that kids and parents can use to engage in great conversations.”
Great conversations are what take the mystery and uncertainty out of puberty. Great conversations are what lead to deeper, more serious conversations when the time comes. Great conversations educate and keep our children healthy and safe.
But I often wonder what makes these conversations so hard with largely silent boys.
“There are two enormous obstacles when it comes to getting boys to talk about puberty,” Natterson says. “The first is socialization: we, as a society, don’t talk about boy puberty nearly as much as we talk about girl puberty.”
She suggests this is because “the first several steps along the pubertal path for boys are somewhat hidden, at least compared with girls.” So true. There was no denying my need for a training bra at age 9, whereas my son is simply getting a little smellier and clumsier. There was no real tangible proof of his descent into puberty until he sported that pimple.
The other obstacle is hormonal, according to Natterson. “Many boys have mood swings,” she shares. “Boys often swing in a different direction — becoming quiet and even withdrawn.” From my experience with my older son, I know this to be true.
Armed with this incredible resource, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure which way to go. Do we read this book together? Do I simply hand it over? Do we read a little together, a little apart? The author suggests, “If you have a son who is highly resistant to learning about his body, just give him the book and let him know that it’s his resource.” I CAN DO THAT.
“Make sure you have already read it and tell him so,” she continues. “This way, when he has questions, you can jump right to the heart of the matter, saving him further embarrassment.”
Oh, that’s a really good point. But my guy might just be the shyest of the bunch. What then?
“For super-shy guys or ones unwilling to have the verbal conversation, offer up that he can write down any questions he has and you can either speak or write the answers back,” says Natterson.
I love this. I can do this. I think even he can do this.
While it’s always been important to me to be open and conversational about physical and developmental changes, I wanted to get ahead of the information that will be presented to him in health class this year. I didn’t want him squirming in his seat, surprised, or worse. I wanted him to already know about pubic changes, peer pressure, voice cracking, and bad breath. I wanted him to meet this information and his own changing body with acceptance and an element of confidence. Most importantly, I wanted him to receive this information in an age-appropriate manner from a trusted resource.
Thanks to Natterson and Guy Stuff, I not only have the icebreaker I need to initiate more productive conversations with my son, but he has a safe and reliable head-to-toe guide on the inner and outer changes that are coming for his body. Growing up isn’t easy for any of us, but when we can talk about it in an open and honest way, we discover it doesn’t have to be so hard.
Get the conversation started with your growing boy with Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys by Cara Natterson, available from Amazon, $8.92.