Your child’s body is changing, they’re more emotional, they smell different. Ah, the joys of puberty. Many of us remember it as an awkward time, when we had more questions than answers. Although today’s preteens often turn to the internet, parents remain a critical source of reassurance and reliable information.
Don’t wait for your child to approach you. Puberty is starting earlier — around 8 years old for girls, and 10 or 11 for boys. Dickinson County Health pediatrician Dr. Maria Duroseau suggests, “Now is the time to proactively talk with your child about physical and emotional changes. It can be awkward, but it’s important that tweens feel prepared. If you’re struggling, call your child’s doctor. We can help you initiate the conversation.”
At yearly check-ups for tweens, pediatricians often ask about lifestyle habits, risky behaviors, nutrition, sleep, and mental wellness. Part of a routine physical includes a brief external genital exam for girls and a testicular exam for boys. It is encouraged but not forced.
Changing bodies. We all know the primary signs of puberty — breast development, hair growth, and menstruation in girls, and penis and testicle growth, hair growth, and cracking voices in boys. Some girls get their first periods as early as 9, and others as late as 16. Talk to girls about menstruation before it happens so they aren’t caught unaware. Reassure your tweens that these changes are awkward, but normal, and that everyone grows at their own pace. Experiencing puberty earlier or later than their peers isn’t better – just different.
Developing brains. Although problem solving and logic are improving, impulse control and organizational skills are still developing. Many tweens become aware of issues of justice and equality. They may try out sarcasm or question their religion. Tweens and young teens tend to make snap decisions and sometimes indulge in risky behaviors. Teach them how to weigh risks and choices. Take a proactive approach to falling grades — they could be related to vision problems, learning disabilities, or emotional struggles.
Fluctuating emotions. The hormonal roller coaster of puberty can be exhausting. They want your approval even as they push you away. Physical and emotional development don’t always happen at the same time, so don’t worry if your child’s interests differ from those of their peers. Dr. Duroseau notes that moodiness is normal, but that depression can manifest at this time. “Peer pressure and insecurity can be very intense at this age. Stay attuned to your child’s state of mind and let us know if you have concerns.” Limit and monitor social media accounts and try to be intentional about spending time together as a family. Lead by example in limiting screen time.
Puberty is tough on parents too. Your child may not always be very likable. Keep in mind that this is the beginning of the process of them learning to be independent. Trust in your skills and talk to your pediatrician and other parents. This too shall pass.
We now offer same-day and next-day appointments for our pediatric patients! The Children’s Care department at DCH has the largest, most knowledgeable pediatrics team in the region. For answers to your parenting questions, both big and small, call us at 906-776-5800.
Maria Duroseau, MD is a member of the U.P.’s largest pediatrics team at DCH. She attended medical school at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, where she also completed her residency and served as Pediatric Chief Resident for one year. She served as an intern at LAC & USC Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Dr. Duroseau is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. She is at the Dickinson Primary Care Clinic at 1711 S Stephenson Ave. in Iron Mountain.