Discussing Puberty and the Case for Consideration not Candour
Whatever you do, don’t address the elephant in the room. That’s what I’ve learned from seeing three children through puberty. There’s a big emphasis on being very open and upfront with your kids on everything from menstruation to masturbation to the birds and the bees. But you know what? Sometimes less is more. Like Kevin Costner’s sage words in the movie, Field of Dreams: build it and they will come.
Hear me out. I know it’s not fashionable to not be woke but has anyone stopped to ask the kids what they want? Truth be told, most of them are learning all they need to know from peers and other sources. This is not ideal, granted. But if you want to be the one that is the font of all puberty knowledge and the source unto which they come for life guidance you need to change tack.
See, I discovered early on, when I was intent on being a progressive mother, that there are two sides to this relationship. The more I wanted to be responsible and prepare my children with enough knowledge to navigate the changes they would be encountering as they transitioned from tweens to teens, the more resistance I got. There were hands over ears, closed doors and claims that I was embarrassing them. Until I realised that if I just left the door open, sometimes they would walk through it.
I’m not saying you should outsource all coming of age learning. But it can be quite shocking for previously unadulterated minors to discover why a monthly cycle is necessary, the concept of attraction, where people might find pleasure and that bodies are property to be protected. Embarking on a textbook introduction that steps through stages may seem logical to us. But tweens are only just awakening to their senses and their thoughts. They will probably ingest information from sources we can’t control. Which makes it hard to know where to pitch our input. Chances are, unfortunately, they’ve been exposed to some shocking ideas much earlier than we’d hoped for yet missed all the practicalities and subtleties. And the love.
So, all we can do is be welcoming, nimble and unruffled (and lock down those parental controls).
Honestly, in a digital world, there is simply no way to prevent your child from exposure to adult themes, either through their own means or that of their peers. So, the conversation we need to have with our children is more like a series of invitations that introduce the idea that physical and emotional changes are ahead, and the spectrum of paths they open up.
I know what you’re thinking: books are the answer. Yes, they are a great conversation starter. But what I would say is make them available with little fanfare and see what happens. Don’t expect your child to want to instantly huddle with you on the sofa and take turns reading chapter out loud. Sit them on the bookshelf and wait for interest to develop. Not all children are eager to reach their next stage of development. So, making books available but not insisting on reading them together puts control in their hands. And no doubt they will come to you with questions when they are ready!
Every generation is different; indeed, every child is different. But sexuality is as old as humans. The trick is in not assuming that it will be perceived as we saw it. All we can do is remain open and approachable.