Maybe you have been waiting for this moment. Maybe you have been dreading it. Either way, it’s go time.
You smell the faint onion-y whiff of BO. You see the beginnings of boobs. Your dentist suggests a visit to the orthodontist.
You talk to your friends. Armed with suggestions and Goodreads reviews you head to Powell’s. You are going to be the parent you secretly wished you had. After purchasing what you deem to be an appropriate-for-your child puberty book, you leave with your head head high, ready to tackle this right of passage.
First thing first, read the book yourself. All of it. Start with the intro and finish the glossary. You’ll want to know what questions you may have to field. You may even have to brush up on some knowledge yourself (vas deferens, anyone?).
Starting the puberty talk isn’t easy for anyone, least of all your tween. Many moms (me?) envision a ceremonial presentation with a hip but not-too-eager explanation of why they are doing this. The reality is far more mundane and awkward.
Think “More Book, Less Talk” to Start
As with most things tween and teen related, the less you say the better it will be. I’d suggest leaving the puberty book on their bed or night stand, or under their pillow if they share a room. You could either tell your tween you put it there or leave a post it note on top saying something like “Thought you might be wondering…”
And then leave it be. Don’t say anything. Don’t give a knowing glance. If the suspense is absolutely killing you then just say “Did you see the book?” but don’t make eye contact when you ask this question. Ask while you are putting away the dishes or driving. You might have to snoop to see if the book has been opened or the spine has creased. After about a week you can say, “So have you looked at the book?”
Expect Any Response
Chattier kids will likely come to you with the interesting puberty facts and questions they have. Other kids would face hot pokers in the eye rather than talk about it. If your child is the latter or just doesn’t bring it up, you might open with “What’d you think about the book?”
Keep in mind that although you may feel ready to discuss bras, periods, or wet dreams, they may want to focus all their time on things like the fact that our toenails grow super slow or that humans have three million sweat glands. Follow their lead. I can’t say it enough. Their lead may be showing you that they aren’t ready to talk about what you thought. They may also be testing the waters to see how you respond to less important topics before they dive into bigger issues.
Make sure to ask if they have any questions about puberty. If they don’t, don’t push it. If you feel like you want to circle back on this topic, wait a week or so. Gently broaching this topic periodically will let them know that you care and are there for them, no matter how tough the topic.
Share Your Personal Experience
Opening with a personal story about how embarrassed you were when your mom talked to you about this or when you first realized you needed deodorant can be helpful. It will provide an opportunity for bonding; you are their hero and yet you were an awkward human once, too.
There are many ways to tackle “The Talk” and this is only one. The words aren’t as important as the spirit of the exercise: tread lightly, don’t push it, follow their lead. And don’t forget the most important thing: having the puberty talk probably won’t go as you had planned, and if you feel like you botched it, don’t sweat it! “Messing up” routinely is part of the mom job description.
Nancy Casey is a family nurse practitioner and owner of Teen Health PDX in NE Portland. She specializes in the health of tweens, teens and young adults. She is passionate about talking to teens and their parents about the stuff no one feels comfortable talking about. She has three tweens and teens of her own that keep her on her toes and make her practice what she preaches every day. Because of this she eats more ice cream than she probably should and snuggles her dog more than he would probably like. She moved to Portland from Chicago 7 years ago and is still amazed at how many hills and mountains there are.