Puberty myths your child needs debunked

Puberty can be particularly daunting for kids as they start to approach adolescence. Our question box is always full of queries and concerns related to periods, mood swings, erections and the like. We actually receive so many questions related to periods that we’ve created a whole separate post dedicated to menstruation (see next week). But there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and kids can come up with pretty wild ideas. So as parents, it’s important that we help unpack with our young people what is and isn’t true about the changes of puberty. Here’s some common myths we often get asked about.

Myth: Puberty is scary and unpleasant

Fact: Puberty doesn’t have to be scary, and there can definitely be good things about it. Learning about puberty so that you have an understanding of what’s happening to the body can help stop it from being frightening or daunting. And many people might look forward to things like growing taller – or just growing up!  

Myth: Boys and girls hit puberty at the same time

Fact: Puberty will differ from person to person, but in general girls do begin puberty earlier than boys. Puberty usually begins between eight and 13 in girls, and nine and 15 in boys.

Myth: You can ‘catch’ puberty

Fact: Just because puberty started happening to a person’s best friend right before them, doesn’t mean they ‘caught’ it from them. Young people are often friends with people the same age as them, so it makes sense puberty will hit many peer groups at the same time. Puberty isn’t a virus – it’s something the body naturally does once it reaches a certain level of physical maturity and will start at a different time for everyone.

Myth: Puberty happens overnight

Fact: It might be years from the first signs of puberty to the last. Many things change and develop at puberty, and rarely does it happen all at once – certainly never overnight. In fact, puberty usually takes three to five years. While some of us might wish we could wake up 3 inches taller, the body doesn’t work like this. And that’s probably for the best.

Myth: Only boys’ voices get deeper

Fact: People of all genders can find their voices get deeper at puberty. You might just notice some boys’ voices more than girls’, as they have a bigger change and sometimes vocal ‘cracks’ or ‘breaks’.

Myth: Wet dreams aren’t normal

Fact: Wet dreams, or nocturnal emissions, are when you ejaculate or secrete vaginal fluids during sleep – and they are completely normal. You might have been dreaming about something sexually pleasurable, or you might not remember your dreams at all. Wet dreams during puberty are not only normal, but they can also be quite common (although not everyone will have them). 

Myth: Puberty means you’ll develop crushes on people

Fact: While a lot of people will experience their first crushes during puberty, not everyone will. Some people might get crushes earlier in life, some might a little later, some much later – and some never will! All are normal, and there’s nothing wrong with how it happens for each individual.

Myth: Acne is caused by bad food and being unclean

Fact: While hygiene and eating well are always important, pimples can be unavoidable due to hormonal changes during puberty. As the body develops, these hormones stimulate the sebaceous glands to make more sebum, and the glands can become overactive. Too much sebum can clog the pores with oil and lead to acne. If pimples or acne are causing any distress or self-consciousness, talk to a trusted adult or your doctor.

Myth: A penis has a bone in it

Fact: Some people might believe this to be true because of the word ‘boner’, a slang term for an erection. But in fact, there are no bones in the penis. It’s actually blood that causes the penis to become hard and stand away from the body during an erection.

Myth: You will grow taller as soon as puberty starts to hit

Fact: Puberty doesn’t happen all at once; it happens in stages. Often, there’s several growth spurts during puberty. Some people might be excited to grow taller, and it will happen, but it might not happen at the start or at the same time as other developments.

Myth: Everyone at school will see if you get an erection

Fact: The clothes you’re wearing are usually enough to hide erections, but if you’re worried, you can always tie a jumper around your waist. Erections also normally go away by themselves within a few minutes. Concentrating on something like doing multiplications in your head can also help them to disappear quicker.

Myth: If you have a crush on someone, it means you’re going through puberty

Fact: People can get crushes at any age, including before they reach puberty. It’s not a definite sign that you’re reaching puberty and it’s not uncommon for children as young as five to have crushes. It’s just that crushes often become deeper and more pronounced at puberty.

Myth: Puberty means you won’t like your parents anymore

Fact: It’s true that puberty is often a time when young people begin to seek and form identities outside of their family ties. They’ll want to test out their own opinions and try to solve problems on their own. This is in part due to the hormonal changes in the brain (puberty isn’t all physical!). But it doesn’t mean that all, or even most, young people will suddenly dislike their parents or no longer want to spend time with them. They’ll still need their parents for help and support.

Myth: Only girls develop breasts

Fact: ‘Gynecomastia’ is overdevelopment of the male breast. In preteen and teen boys, gynecomastia can be caused by the hormonal changes of puberty and breast buds can be common. The buds tend to go away within the first year of their growth.

Myth: Only boys get sweaty and smelly during puberty

Fact: Hormonal changes increase sweat production in people of all genders throughout puberty. And it isn’t just regular sweat either; your sebaceous glands begin producing oils that are a particular favourite of odour-producing bacteria.  

Myth: Mood swings will make you crazy

Fact: It’s true that the hormonal changes in your brain that happen over puberty can make emotions more changeable and pronounced, but they don’t turn you into an entirely different person. And these emotions can be managed through healthy strategies, like say, going for a walk, exercising, listening to music, talking to a friend or trusted adult, or distracting yourself.

What does it all stand for? Breaking down LGBTQ+ and other terms around gender and sexuality

L=LESBIAN: A woman who is sexually and/or romantically attracted only to other women.

G=GAY: A person who is sexually and/or romantically attracted only to people of the same sex. It’s often used to refer to men who are attracted to other men.

B=BISEXUAL: A person who is sexually and/or romantically attracted to more than one gender. This could mean could include cisgender men or women, nonbinary people, transgender people, or any gender identification.

T=TRANSGENDER: A person whose sense of personal gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth (see Assigned Sex). For example, they may have been born with a penis and have ‘male’ on their birth certificate, but identify as a woman.

Q=QUEER: Queer is an umbrella term for anyone who identifies as being LGBTQ+ as well as a term for the community as a whole. ‘Queer’ can mean different things for different people, but it generally can refer to anyone who is not both cisgender and heterosexual.

I=INTERSEX: A term used for a person is born with reproductive anatomy, hormones or chromosomes not typically expected of ‘female’ or ‘male’. This can be called ‘ambiguous’ genitalia.

A=ASEXUAL: A person who experiences little to no sexual attraction. Asexual people still may experience romantic attraction, non-sexual physical attraction and other forms of attraction.

PANSEXUAL: A person who is romantically and/or sexually attracted to people of all gender identities.

GENDER IDENTITY: An individual’s sense of their gender, so whether they feel themselves to be male, female, or something else. This is not the same as having a penis or a vulva.

ASSIGNED SEX/BIOLOGICAL SEX: Usually given at birth, this is the sex given to someone based on whether they have a penis and testicles (male) or a vulva (female). Intersex people (see Intersex) might not fit into either category. Importantly, a person’s sexual anatomy does not determine their gender identity.

GENDER NONCONFORMING, OR G.N.C.: A person who expresses gender outside traditional ideas of what is ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. It can also mean someone who considers their gender identity to be outside the strict female/male binary. Sometimes these people might also identify with being transgender, but not always. Other terms people might use include genderqueer, gender fluid, and gender neutral. G.N.C. people might use they/them pronouns.

NONBINARY: A person who identifies as neither male nor female, or who identifies as both, and who sees themselves outside the gender binary. Nonbinary people might also identify as transgender, but not always, and might use they/them pronouns.

AMAB/AFAB= ASSIGNED MALE AT BIRTH/ASSIGNED FEMALE AT BIRTH: A person who is assigned as either ‘female’ or ‘male’ when they were born, depending on their biological sex. These terms can be used by transgender or nonbinary people to talk about how their gender identity differs from what sex they were given at birth.

RESOURCES:

https://outrightinternational.org/content/acronyms-explained

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/21/style/lgbtq-gender-language.html

https://www.latrobe.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/1173449/Research-Matters-What-does-LGBTIQ-mean.pdf

https://au.reachout.com/articles/lgbtqi-support-services

https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/education/face-facts-lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-and-intersex-people

Tween obsessions: what you need to know

One big psychological change of puberty is the sudden need for greater independence. It’s when young people start to establish their identity outside of their parents and the family unit. We often hear about the door slamming, the eye-rolling, the wanting to spend more time with friends and the embarrassing fashion choices (remember your own?). But one aspect of this development time that’s not so frequently spoken about is the interests, passions and obsessions.

These tween interests might be hobbies, or they might focus on a person, band, or even book. This is when young people often get their first crushes after all, so it’s common to find a celebrity crush plastered over your tween’s walls. And sometimes, this interest can reach the point of obsession. It might seem like it’s all they talk about! How do you handle this sort of obsession as a parent? And at what point does it become unhealthy?

Respect their interest

First of all, it’s vital to respect your tween’s interest. No matter how silly or trivial it seems to you, it feels deadly serious to your young person. Don’t laugh or make jokes about it. If you can, get involved in some way. Ask them about their interest. What do they like about it/them so much? Maybe you can go to a horse-riding tournament, a concert of the band, or the latest movie of theirs together.

When is it unhealthy?

Just because they’re won’t stop talking about their interest (and it’s really getting on your nerves!) doesn’t necessarily mean this new obsession is unhealthy. Most of the time it’s nothing to worry about and the obsession will pass. The key thing to watch out for is if it’s starting to impact their life or they’re withdrawing too much from other activities, particularly their social network. If they’ve lost interest in spending time with their friends in order to sit in their bedroom to focus on the obsession, that’s when gentle intervention might be needed.

What can you do?

Encourage your child to seek more balance. Talk about the importance of seeking joy from multiple aspects of life. Plan activities to keep them out of their bedroom or away from the computer. Help them to arrange catch ups with friends, or to organise other social activities that will have them spending time with other people. If these don’t work, you might like to organise for your tween to see a counsellor or psychologist. This is especially true if your child is withdrawing more and more socially, as this can be a symptom of deeper problems.

Talking about COVID-19 with your children

With the state in a stretching-out lockdown 4.0, we thought we’d dig up this post from our April 2020 newsletter. We know kids already know about the virus by now, but it’s good to check in and help ease their anxiety over another lockdown.

Give them the facts

As parents and caregivers, it can be tempting to try and hide our child away from bad news, to protect them from worry. But children pick up on the anxiety of their parents, and when they don’t know what’s going on, it only increases their level of stress.

Instead, have a conversation where you lay down the facts about what’s going on, including what you do and don’t know. This video offers a quick run down on what you need to know about COVID-19; you might want to watch it before you talk, or watch it together. Keep your regular tone of voice, so don’t try and be overly calm, but try not to let stress creep in either. Speaking normally will help reassure your child that you’re not having an end-of-the-world conversation.

Anxiety often stems from what we don’t know, so the more information we give children, the securer they’ll feel. It’s also important that you don’t wait for your child to ask you about the virus or this lockdown to talk. Some kids will be the kind to ask questions about everything, and others will keep their worries to themselves, but both types need to know.

Reassure them

While we want our children to be informed, of course we should reassure them as well. Yes, they need to know the bad with the good, but focusing more on the positives can help settle their nerves. Let them know that illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults, and that many symptoms can be treated. Let them know that many older or at-risk people are vaccinated now, with more becoming vaccinated every day. Talk about our excellent health care and hospitals, and how we’ve learnt how to handle the pandemic better since the last lockdowns. Remind them of all the effective things they can do themselves, like washing their hands and not touching their face. 

Talk to them about the good that people are doing in the face of this pandemic. Show them heartwarming videos of people in lockdown, such as these Italians singing together across balconies, these Sicilian kids performing Coldplay, and this Kent family’s adaption of Les Mis. Look up videos of people in Britain gathering outside their homes to applaud NHS health workers, and together find out about the ‘bear hunt’ and rainbow drawings in windows. Ask them to think about fun things they can do at home they might not have had time to do in a while. And keep reminding them that although a few weeks can feel like a long time, this is temporary; eventually it will pass and things will go back to normal. Remind them that humans are strong and adaptable and that we will get through this together.

Get them to talk

Allowing your child the space and time to express their feelings about what’s going on is possibly the most important thing you can do. And you have to be proactive. Start by asking them questions. What have they been hearing and seeing? How do they feel about it? How might big events like this make us feel? Giving them the opportunity to express their feelings will help to stop them from becoming overwhelmed.

It’s important they identify the names of their emotions and the sensations that come with them: what is grief, and what does it feel like? What about anxiety? Talking about ‘sadness’ is equally fine; the words don’t have to be high-level vocab. By being able to identify their feelings, they’ll be able to process them better.

Ensure they have breaks

As well as having these important chats, it’s equally important to make sure your children have plenty of time where they don’t have to think or talk about COVID-19 (and it’s important for us adults as well!) Change the conversation after you’ve talked for a while. Be mindful of when and how long the news is on for. If you live with another adult, watch how much the two of you speak about while the kids are in earshot. 

There are many more helpful resources out there on helping caregivers and kids through the COVID-19 pandemic. We recommend this article from UNICEF, this article from Reach Out, and this video from HeySigmund. This website from Wide Open School provides a range of educational and play activities you can do at home to get your family through the pandemic. We also post other good resources we come across on our Facebook page so please join our community there by ‘liking’ our page if you haven’t already. 

Romantic relationship myths your teen needs debunked

We get a lot of ideas about relationships that may not be healthy for us from movies, advertising, books and people. Romantic relationships in particular are often portrayed in ways that are outdated, harmful or just plain wrong. We need to be constantly talking about relationships with our children, especially as they reach adolescence and start developing crushes and begin dating.

Myth: There’s only one person out there for you (like a ‘soul mate’)

Fact: Ahhh, yeah, no. And thank goodness it’s ‘no’. Imagine the difficulty and pressure if we all had to find that ‘one’ person in a world of seven billion? Just like how most of us have more than one friend, there are also many, many people out there who we are likely to feel romantic and/or sexual attraction towards and who may make good partners.

Myth: Conflict is a sign of a bad relationship

Fact: Conflict is unavoidable; it will always arise in any close relationship, romantic or otherwise. The sign of a healthy relationship is not the amount of conflict, but how the conflict is handled. Clear, calm and non-accusatory communication is key here. Trying not to be defensive and communicating emotions without spite. If fights get heated, that can be okay – just so long as they’re resolved peacefully afterwards. That being said, it’s important to know the difference between regular bickering and unhealthy patterns or emotional abuse.

Myth: Partners should just ‘know’ each other’s needs and feelings

Fact: None of us are mind readers. We might see someone every day, but we still don’t know what’s really going on inside their heads. And we can’t expect our partners to know what’s going on in ours. Feelings and needs have to be communicated before they can be addressed. It’s not fair to expect someone to just ‘know’.

Myth: If you truly love someone, you won’t feel attraction to other people

Fact: Loving someone doesn’t cancel out all feelings for other people. Humans simply aren’t built this way. This is a particularly pervasive and often damaging myth, one that might lead people to throw away perfectly happy relationships just because of a crush or Instagram ‘likes’ for someone else. Even if you have thoughts about someone else, or your partner does, it doesn’t mean your or their love isn’t real or is diminished in some way.

Myth: Jealousy is a sign of love and caring

Fact: Jealously doesn’t stem from love, it stems from insecurity – and it can be very unhealthy. While almost everyone experiences jealously at some point, excessive jealously and controlling behaviour should not be tolerated. For minor jealousies, it’s fine to offer or ask for a little extra love and reassurance. But at the end of the day, jealousy isn’t something to be ‘solved’ by another person; we need to work on our own insecurities.

Myth: If they’re ‘the one’, the relationship should be easy

Fact: Okay, so we already debunked the idea of ‘the one’ above. But besides that, all relationships need work. It doesn’t matter how well suited the pair; all couples will experience bumpy patches. And communicating or caring for someone’s needs, compromising, and getting around conflict can be challenging and tiring. But for good, healthy relationships – the extra demands will be worth it.    

Myth: You should only talk about your problems and feelings with your partner

Fact: No one person should be your entire support network. Talk with friends, talk with family, talk with professionals. Having a range of people to turn to for a sympathetic ear will help provide different perspectives. It also means that if things ever sour with your partner, there will be a number of others to fall back on for support.

Myth: You and your partner should share everything (including all your time)

Fact: Having interests, hobbies, friends and periods of time just for you is actually healthy in a relationship! While some couples will be more co-dependant than others, ensuring some time and space for yourself will help maintain healthy boundaries and make the both of you better partners. And no person you’re dating should ever pressure or force you to share a bedroom, a bank account, a hobby or anything else if you don’t want to.

Myth: If a relationship ends, it means it’s failed

Fact: If the both of you have learnt and grown from the relationship, and not left each other in significantly worse working order than when you met, then congratulations – you’ve been in a successful relationship! Why does this myth continue to plague us? Why is death the only acceptable end marker of a relationship? Some people might have rewarding relationships that last as little as a night! There are many factors for judging the success of a relationship, and time is just one of them.

Myth: Once you’re in a committed relationship, you no longer need to use protection

Fact: Okay, this might not be the case for every couple in history – but it is good practise to use protection. For heterosexual couples, pregnancy might be an issue and will need protection to prevent. But for couples of all genders, STIs (sexually transmissible infections) are a reality and you might want to still use protective barriers like condoms for either penises or vulvas. No matter how much you trust your partner – it’s better to be safe than sorry.