How to talk to your child about puberty

Get expert pointers on how to broach the touchy subject of body odour, moods and BGR with your sullen tween!

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Puberty is not fun, nor is it easy. Physical changes aside, hormones and out-of-control emotions may make it extremely difficult for you to communicate with your preteen.

This is also usually the period when junior discovers his unique sense of self. Explains Madelin Hiew-Tay, a Family Central counsellor (a service by Fei Yue Community Services), “They realise that their parents may not know everything, [that their parents] are not the only truth [that’s out there] and they begin to be curious about the larger world.”

Asian parents, in particular, tend to avoid talking to their teens about puberty. Iris Lin, Fei Yue’s assistant director of youth services, points out that topics on bodily changes, hormonal changes and sex tend to be more difficult for parents to discuss.

“I find that teens [with] parents who would discuss and share with them about these changes are more open [and likely] to share their experiences with their parents.” For teens that don’t have that kind of support, they will likely turn to their peers for information or search online for answers.

However, your tween should not trust all that he reads online or from his peers. Which is why you need to broach the subject, so that he gets the correct info. Hiew-Tay and Lin have tips on how you should talk about puberty, without compromising your relationship…

Q: When should parents start broaching the subject of puberty?

Hiew-Tay: Puberty starts at different ages for different children. If parents can start this puberty conversation before they experience the changes, it will be good. The depth of the content covered may be different depending on the child’s age. We can begin with a celebratory tone when we introduce this new phase of life with pride and affirm how they have grown up. Then guide them through the anticipated physical, emotional and social changes. Do not instil fear, just highlight some challenges. Explain that it is an exciting period and you are here to support them. It will be ideal if both parents can have a date with each child individually to talk about the possible changes that will be coming.

Are there common communication issues parents can expect?

Hiew-Tay: You should be avoid being judgmental, thinking that your child is immature, and not being open to child's ideas or opinions.

How can parents avoid these problems?

Hiew-Tay: Try to understand who they are and what they need ― do they need your support or your shouting down at them? Are they under any form of pressure in school like schoolwork, project work or peers?

Keep an open mind when trying to find out more about their situation instead of assuming the “I-know-it-all” stance because your child already knows that you don’t. Don’t be judgmental as they also want to be respected, so spend more time listening than talking. Give them the attention and try not to multitask when they are talking to you.

“You should be avoid being judgmental, thinking that your child is immature, and not being open to child's ideas or opinions.”

It is also about timing ― so find a good time to talk, not when they are finishing homework or in the middle of his show or game.

In general, your children want your approval, so work on building a good relationship as it is the best defence against all pressures. Accept your child for who they are along with their weaknesses. Get to know ― and not criticise ― their friends because it’s as if you’re criticising your own child. When you do so, you’re highlighting your child's inability to choose good friends, which will make them feel alienated if they stop hanging out with them.

How to broach awkward and touchy subjects… Next!

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How should parents discuss awkward subjects like body odour, acne, mood swings and menses?

Lin: Parents can assure their child that in puberty, such changes are natural. Guide your child on how to handle the different changes that may come. Mothers or other female figures such as aunts, godmothers or grandmothers can shop with the daughters for inner wear such as bras, as well as sanitary pads, and share with the child how to cope with the changes in the body. Similarly, fathers or other male figures in the family can guide their sons on personal hygiene, voice changes, as well as changes in sexual organs or desires.

Hiew-Tay: It helps to normalise situations [by introducing] hygiene practices to educate them on what they can do to work through these [potentially embarrassing] situations. Children learn from modelling their parents’ [behaviour] as values are caught, not just taught. Therefore, if mothers attribute their foul moods to PMS, we may have unintentionally communicated to our daughters that PMS allows us to have a bad temper. If pornography is accessible at home, you do not have the credibility to guide them about their sexual urges. So, what we say must be backed by our actions.

Even if there was no opportunity to educate beforehand and you found out along the way about their challenges, be brave and initiate the conversation. Also, be gentle with them; approach them with a soft tone. Check first as to what they already know, so you can add [or correct] their knowledge. It is necessary for us to give the right information. If we do not know where our children get their advice from, we cannot be sure that they are getting proper guidance.

“Children learn from modelling their parents’ [behaviour] as values are caught, not just taught.”

Puberty is when romantic relationships and crushes happen ― any advice for parents on talking to their kids about boy-girl relationships?

Lin: It is normal to develop crushes on another person. As such, do not put your child down or brush it off with statements such as “you are too young” or “don't you dare think of such things”. Always encourage your child to share with you about the boys or girls they admire. In the conversation, you will get to hear what attracts your child and how your child is really feeling. Parents may even find good pointers to take the conversation further. I find that when parents are willing to listen to their children, the child will prefer to seek their advice and not just their views.

Read on to learn how to protect your child from smoking, drinking and underage sex!

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Vices like smoking, drinking and underage sex are portrayed extensively on social media. What can parents do to prevent their children from getting unduly influenced?

Lin: Apart from setting clear boundaries and limits for the child since he or she is young, a positive example from the parents is very important, too. If both parents practise healthy behaviours to their child, the child will know what is right and wrong. However, during the adolescent years, the child may still come under their peers’ influence. So, we encourage parents to talk about issues such as smoking, drinking and sex with them. Such opportunities can come through time alone with the child, or when parents watch a movie or the news together with their child.

Many of the youths we’ve met did not enjoy the experience of smoking or drinking initially ― they tried it out of curiosity, nor did they want to be rejected by their peers. As such, affirming your child’s values from a young age is important. When a child knows he or she is precious and valued, they will learn not to follow in the footsteps of their wayward peers. Also, an important topic parents can discuss or share with their child is the fear of facing rejection from friends and choosing the right friends. These can be done even at a younger age. Parents can also share anecdotes of their own experiences and struggles when they were growing up. Our youths generally find such things helpful. It also makes them feel connected as they realise their parents can understand what they are going through as well.

Photos: iStock

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