Dr. LaTawnya Pleasant

UK HealthCast: How to talk with your child about puberty

UK HealthCast is a podcast series featuring interviews with UK HealthCare experts on a variety of health-related topics, from how to recognize stroke symptoms to what patients need to know about clinical trials – and more.

For this edition, we spoke to Dr. LaTawnya Pleasant, a pediatrician at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, about when and how to talk to your child about puberty, even when it seems uncomfortable for both of you.

At what age should you bring up puberty to your child?

For girls, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends beginning to discuss puberty around the ages of 8 to 9. This can start with the conversation of, "Wow, you have gotten taller,” or "I have noticed that you were developing breasts."

For boys, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends beginning near the ages of 10 to 12. This conversation can start with, "Wow, you have gotten taller" or "Have you noticed pubic hair?"

For both, it may vary slightly depending upon how mentally or emotionally mature your child is. If you feel that your son is more emotionally mature around the ages of 8 to 9, then you can begin to discuss the changes of puberty with him.

When does puberty start?

For most girls, the changes start between the ages of 8 to 12. The breast growth typically begins first, followed by pubic and underarm hair developing. On average, girls start having their periods near the age of 12. It's also perfectly normal for a girl to have her first period anywhere between the ages of 10 to 15.

For most boys, puberty starts a bit later, between the ages of 10 to 14. Hair will typically begin developing around the genitals, the armpits and on the face. As puberty progresses in boys, the penis will grow longer and wider, the testicles continue to enlarge, and the voice deepens. Nocturnal erections or wet dreams begin to happen toward the end of these changes since the male body is maturing sexually.

The timing of onset varies among races. You shouldn't worry if your child reaches puberty before or after their friends. This process can take up to four years.

Should you wait for your child to bring up the topic of puberty?

Absolutely not. Many children feel uncomfortable discussing the emotions that they are experiencing regarding puberty, which results in them becoming hesitant to provoke these conversations. The issue with this is that many children will search for answers through other unreliable sources, such as their peers or nonmedical websites.

What other tips do you have for talking to your child about puberty?

Use actual body part language for genitals. For girls, the general area around the vagina is called the vulva. For boys, there's the penis and the testicles.

And keep things short when talking to younger children. Their attention span is very short.

Puberty is a normal part of growing. Remember to remind your kids that there isn't anything wrong with the changes that their bodies are going through. Try not to look uncomfortable or embarrassed, so your kids don't feel that way either.

Listen to the full podcast with Dr. Pleasant:

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This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.