Most discussions around puberty tend to focus on girls, but boys are starting puberty earlier, too. A 2012 study of U.S. boys found white and Hispanic boys were entering puberty at an average age of 10, and African American boys at 9. That’s up to two years earlier than decades ago. (The study couldn’t determine why.) Boys typically go through puberty from ages 9 to 14, with the entire process taking three to four years. Most boys will start puberty by 11½ years old.
If your son starts puberty before the typical age range, take him to the pediatrician for a physical. While there could be no reason for the early onset, it’s important to rule out any conditions that could cause puberty to start early.
Puberty changes in boys
Preteen and teen boys go through a lot of changes during puberty: everything from growth spurts to growing hair in new places. As the body changes, boys can expect:
- Emotional changes.You may experience more happiness or sadness, and your feelings toward others (old friends, new friends, family) may change. You also may experience new feelings of jealousy, anger and attraction. Talk about your feelings and ask questions. Talk to a parent, doctor, teacher or coach.
- Mental changes. You may experience new thoughts, consider new ideas or ask yourself questions such as, “Am I normal?” You’ll also make big decisions around this time (such as where you’ll go to high school).
- Physical changes.
- Growth spurts
- Body odor
- Developing muscles and increased strength
- Oily hair and skin, as well as acne
- Facial, underarm and pubic hair growth
- Increased sweating
- Penile growth and erections
- Deepening or cracking of voice
- Social changes.You may start acting differently around others or act more like an adult. Expect to take more responsibility at school, home, work or during extracurricular activities. Peer pressure may affect your decision-making.
How to talk to boys about puberty –– and sex
Parents need to offer advice but often find it uncomfortable to talk about puberty and sex. Some just assume their sons will figure it all out on their own. But the longer you wait, the harder it becomes. Younger kids actually can be easier to talk to because they’re open and don’t yet have preconceived notions about sexuality.
Before your son reaches his teens, teach him the correct names and functions of male and female sex organs, how puberty changes the body and the risk of pregnancy or getting sexually transmitted infections. These talks should go on over time and anytime your son wants to talk. Avoid postponing or putting off these conversations because it’s not a good time for you. Here are some conversation starters:
- You’re going to start seeing some changes “down there.” Your penis is going to get bigger and you might see some bumps on it. Your testicles will grow too, and one might become lower than the other. That’s normal. You’ll also start seeing pubic hairs growing around your penis and testicles. You will start growing hair in your armpits, on your chest and all over your body too.
- That crackling in your voice is probably embarrassing for you, but it’s normal and won’t last forever. It’s caused by your voice box and vocal chords growing. Next your voice will become deeper.
- You can’t control wet dreams (nocturnal emissions) and involuntary erections. They are a normal part of growing up and will become less frequent as you get older. They are nothing to be ashamed of.
- It’s normal to feel like touching yourself. It’s called masturbation, and it’s a normal and harmless urge, as long as it is done in private. It can help you relieve sexual urge without having sex.
- I want you to understand how sex works and how a girl gets pregnant. This will be a longer conversation and should include the facts about using birth control and needing to protect yourself against sexually transmitted diseases — every time, no matter what.
Norton Children’s Medical Associates
Still stumped on the best way to broach the topic? Take a look at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website HealthyChildren.org. It offers a wealth of information and guidance for both parents and children.
Puberty is tough on kids –– pay attention to their needs
During this time, also be sensitive to your son’s need for privacy. Preteens often become more modest while bathing or showering and changing their clothes. His interest in grooming and appearance may increase as well.
Be respectful and avoid good-natured teasing. Also respect your child’s wish for privacy, not only as it relates to his changing body but in other areas as well, such as knocking before entering his room.