Boys in puberty: monsters and geniuses
Andreas Späth explores what to expect when you’re expecting a pubescent boy.
(Getty Images)
For girls, puberty is a magical rite of passage. A flourishing of the child into a blossoming young woman. Among boys, on the other hand, the same biological transition seems to involve some of the crudest sorcery out of the book of the dark arts.

You could have sworn that the sweet little boy whom you playfully tucked into bed at night was your son. You haven’t got the vaguest idea, however, who that awkward, gangly, irritable merchant of gloom - that ill-formed homunculus, stuck halfway between child and grown-up - who emerged on what seemed to be the following day could be.

The puberty years can be extremely challenging for boys as well as their dumbfounded parents. But it isn’t all emo, depressingly dark music and grumpiness. This is also an exciting period when your son starts the journey of development, discovery and self-expression towards becoming an independent young man.

For three or four years your own personal Jekyll & Hyde is likely to flounder back and forth between being a miserable monster and an engaging young genius with a most stimulating mind. Understanding what to expect from this tumultuous phase will make the process easier and more rewarding for both you and him.

Awash with hormones

Puberty is the period when the sexual organs develop to maturity and secondary sex characteristics, such as under-arm, facial and pubic hair, start to emerge. The process is driven by a heady cocktail of hormones.

At some stage between the ages of 9 and 15, signals from the hypothalamus region in your son’s brain will stimulate the adrenal gland and the pea-shaped pituitary gland at the base of his brain to release certain hormones. These hormones in turn kick-start his testicles into producing sperm cells as well as releasing testosterone and other male sex hormones, or androgens, into his body. It is these androgens that trigger all of the physical and psychological changes you are likely to encounter during puberty.

Stand by your young man

If you know about and are prepared for the changes your son is heading for you’ll be able to help him get through the transition more smoothly than if he has to try to understand what’s happening to him all by himself. It’s important to start building a trustful and communicative relationship with him long before he enters puberty.

Be open, honest and straight forward. Talk to him about his changing body and let him feel that you will always have time for his questions and worries. Don’t be scared to speak to him about tricky subjects such as sex from an early age - in an age-appropriate manner, of course. A once-off session about the birds and the bees on his 16th birthday is guaranteed to be both super awkward and counter-productive.

Puberty is a complex and confusing period for him and it is crucial to reassure him that the physical and emotional changes he’s going through are perfectly normal. Be flexible and patient, and understand that he may have little control over his rollercoaster mood swings.

Help him find the answers to the issues he’s grappling with in books and on the internet. Assist him in buying his first deodorant, razor and shaving cream, or alternatively give him the space to do so all on his own.

Above all, take him seriously, support him and value his newly flourishing sense of independence. Yes, puberty can be a tricky time, but rather than trying to tie him down with overbearing rules and tough-love boundaries, learn to trust his ability to make choices and decisions while never stopping to support him when he needs you.

Find out more about puberty and boys:

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