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Body hair, mood swings and social media – welcome to puberty with your pre-teen!

Zariah Kale

Zariah Kale

Zariah is a writer, history nerd, amateur chef and mum of three. When she is not negotiating screen time with one of her two tweens, or falling asleep during movies, you'll find her scouring vintage shops for one-of-a-kind pieces or apologising to friends for the "late reply" over text.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 7 mins read

It feels like yesterday when I gave birth to tiny 8-pound babies who cried every time I walked out of their line of sight. Their faces would light up as I pulled up in the driveway to pick them up from daycare and the car ride home would be full of non-stop chatter about every little detail, like the sparkly pink beret that Mrs. Janice had worn or a spotted bug they had found in the grass outside.


But then, those little chatty kids with their sloppy kisses and aggressive hugs began turning into these moody little teens. They rolled their eyes, and checked their phones in anticipation — and, worst of all, the car rides home were spent gazing out the window.

I missed the stories and the details.

But I’d been through puberty, so I had some idea of what they were going through. I knew how much I disliked that phase where everything made you question your self-worth. Watching my kids go through it, made me hate it even more.

I wanted to do everything to make this experience better for them. So if you are in the same boat, and trying to navigate puberty with your pre-teen, here is a quick guide for you.

Understanding Puberty: What are the five stages of puberty?


The first step to helping your teen is understanding the changes they are going through. Because frankly, it is the time in a child’s life when their body begins to go through more changes than a chameleon on a rainbow. And not in a fun, colourful kind of way.

There are five stages of puberty, each one like a new level in a video game but more challenging than the last. So let’s explore these stages so that you can brace yourself for the change — one step at a time!

The five stages are

Prepubertal: The stage before puberty begins.

Pubarche: The onset of pubic hair growth.

Thelarche: The onset of breast development in girls.

Peak height velocity: The stage of maximum growth in height.

Postpubertal: The stage when puberty is complete and physical maturity is reached.


What should a preteen know about puberty?


Now we come to the next question:  How do we help our teens? They’re just kids, and to some of us parents, they’ll always be our little babies! (That feeling never goes away, even when they’re 28 and having their own babies.)

But back to the present:  To help our children transition into puberty effortlessly, it’s important that we walk them through the changing developmental phases to prevent any sudden, unexpected shock and have those difficult conversations.

Preteens should know what to expect, and what they’re going through is a normal and natural process. For one, a heads-up doesn’t hurt. And you, as the parent, have the power to make the upcoming years seem exciting instead of scary.


Physically:


Girls will experience breast development, the onset of menstruation, and the growth of pubic and underarm hair, all of which are entirely normal. Boys, on the other hand, will go through some changes of their own. From testicular and penis growth to the progression of pubic and underarm hair, as well as voice changes.

Be open to questions, and don’t shy away from them. It’s better they get the answers from you than from some random website. Or worse, their peers, who may not have the right information.

Both boys and girls may also go through increased height and weight, body odour, and acne, which is a given when one is in their pubescent phase, something parents need to reiterate all the time to keep self-esteem in check.

It’s also a fun idea to take them shopping for new clothes and body sprays: training bras for girls and clothes to keep them cool and comfortable. Even a nice spa date with your daughter can be a great bonding session to make her feel older and excited about the change.

Cognitively:


The transition from childhood into adulthood doesn’t stop there. Preteens may feel changes in their ability to think abstractly, plan, and make decisions. They may become more interested in exploring their identity and developing a sense of self.

Emotionally:


This one is the one that always gets me. The hormonal changes can lead to mood swings, increased anxiety, and changes in their self-esteem. (Don’t take it personally when they start slamming doors and retreating towards their rooms.)

Give them space, and once they’ve calmed down, let them talk about what it is that is really bothering them.

They may become more interested in forming close relationships with peers and experience romantic or sexual attraction for the first time. For the girls, there will be period hormones and mood fluctuations that will have a direct impact on their emotional well being.

Socially:


Changes in relationships with family and friends will be another prevalent factor as pre-teens seek more independence and spend more time with peers. They may become more interested in social media and other forms of digital communication, which can both positively and negatively impact their social lives.

Again, involving them in setting their own limits for screen time will allow them to feel independent and will save you from lots of arguments. Showing them that you have faith in them and trust them is critical at this age.

How do I talk to my 11-year-old about puberty?


If you thought potty training was challenging, wait till you have to talk to your 11-year-old daughter or son about puberty.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t so bad. Thanks to some useful advice from parents who had already navigated through those treacherous waters: Here are some tips that can help you too:

Choose the right time and place: Having this conversation in a private and quiet space where your daughter feels comfortable is essential. Consider choosing a time when you both have uninterrupted time, such as during a walk or a car ride.

The same goes for your young boys. You can bond with them over a game of catch and make sure they’re comfortable and feel they can approach you with the tough qeuestions.

Start with the basics: Begin by explaining to your daughter the physical changes that she will experience during puberty, such as breast development, body hair growth, and menstruation. Use straightforward language that she can understand. Using your own experience or an awkward encounter you had may help break the advice.

If you have a son who is growing up, you can talk about some of the changes he’ll be going through soon like growing a moustache or a change in his voice. You could ask if he wants to learn how to shave his face and joke around with him or even recall some funny anecdotes from your time as a tween.

Answer their questions: Be prepared to answer their questions honestly and openly. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you will find out and get back to them.

Discuss hygiene and self-care: Emphasise the need for good hygiene practices, such as showering regularly and using deodorant, and how the kids can care for thier bodies during puberty.

Talk about emotions: This can be an emotional time, so chat about how your kids may feel and reassure them that these feelings are normal. Encourage your son or daughter to talk to you or another trusted adult if they feel overwhelmed or need support.

While girls are generally more open about their feelings, boys tend to find it difficult to express their emotions. This is a great time to show that it is okay to be vulnerable and teach them how they can express themselves.

Got more questions? No problem. Here are some FAQs:

What is the hardest age of puberty?


No specific age can be considered the hardest in puberty, as each individual’s experience is unique. However, some common challenges associated with puberty, such as physical changes, social pressures, and hormonal fluctuations, can make it a difficult time for many adolescents.

What is a rare age to hit puberty?


While the average age range for puberty is 8–13 years for girls and 9–14 years for boys, reaching puberty before the age of 8 in girls and before 9 in boys is considered unusual and may require medical evaluation. On the other hand, late-blooming, after 14 for girls and 15 for boys, is also rare and may indicate an underlying medical condition.

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