Parenting Through PubertySep 06, 2023
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Today we’re talking about puberty. If you have a tween or teen (or even a slightly younger kid), this episode is going to be so helpful. Our kids go through a lot of changes during puberty, so I’m helping you to understand what is actually going on in their bodies and with their hormones and how you can support your child through it all.
What Is Puberty?
Puberty is the name that we give to the combination of hormone-driven changes that happen inside the body right before and during adolescence. It’s the process of a child’s body growing, changing and maturing (pretty rapidly!) into an adult body.
Puberty is triggered by the release of sex hormones. For girls, this can happen anywhere between ages 8 and 13, but is most common around age 10 or 11. For boys the range is closer to ages 9 to 14, with the most common onset between 11 and 13 years old. Note that as we are discussing biological processes, I am referring to gender assigned at birth.
Just as the age of onset varies from person to person, the length of puberty varies, too. It can last a really long time, or it can go by quickly. Just as with other developmental milestones, everyone is on their own timeline.
What To Expect During Puberty
Common signs of puberty for both boys and girls include oily skin and hair, increased perspiration and body odor and growth spurts. In girls, you’ll also notice breast development, growth of pubic and underarm hair, changes in their figure (e.g. widening hips) and the start of a menstrual cycle. Additional signs of puberty in boys include growth in the penis and testicles, growth of pubic, underarm and facial hair, ejaculations and changes in their voice.
These physical changes are the ones we tend to be more familiar with. But there are also a lot of changes that happen with the brain and the stress response.
In all of my programs, including the Emotionally Healthy Middle Schooler and the Emotionally Healthy Teen, we talk a lot about stress management and how to help kids regulate their emotions in a healthy way.
During puberty and adolescence, there are two main things that are happening in the brain: Hormonal changes (which we’re going deep into today) and a process called pruning, which I’ll cover in next week’s episode.
Hormones and the Stress Response During Puberty
As a quick refresh, a stressor is anything (physical or psychological) that your brain views as a threat, and hormonal systems within our body get activated to help us cope.
The initial reaction comes from epinephrine (aka adrenaline) through our sympathetic nervous system. This is the fight or flight reaction. The second response is a bit slower and more regulated. Multiple glands and parts of the brain work together, using hormones like cortisol and dopamine, to respond to the stress response and calm our body back down.
Basically, you get an energy boost so you have the ability to protect yourself against the threat. Once the threat is gone and we’ve moved through our stress response, our body sends the brain a message that we’re ok and the hormone production stops.
During puberty, things get a little thrown off, because the system that is responsible for responding to stress is also responsible for creating all of the sex hormones (testosterone in boys and estrogen and progesterone in girls).
Up to age 10, your kid is already working pretty hard to manage their stress response because they’re young. Then, we throw a whole influx of new hormones in the mix. The brain and body need to learn how to regulate these new hormones, and it takes a while. Completing a stress cycle can take 45 to 60 minutes longer in adolescents than in adults.
Your middle schooler or high schooler may not have more stressors in their life, but they are actually more stressed inside their body. They’re experiencing a heightened, overactive stress response, and they’re struggling. This is why we see unpredictable, volatile moods during puberty.
Tips For Parenting Through Puberty
What are you supposed to DO with this hormonal, moody person? Here are a few tips to navigate this time of your child’s life.
Don’t take things personally
The behavior that you’re seeing isn’t really about you. It’s about what your kid is going through internally. Set boundaries when you need to, but don’t shut them out or shut them down. It’s time to lean in and get curious about what they’re struggling with.
Listen without judgment
When you see off-track behavior, you’ll want to jump in with criticism or advice. But if you really want to create a safe place between you and your tween or teen, you need to let them get some things out.
Decide which boundaries are most important to you
It can be really confusing as a parent to decide which limits you’re committed to holding, so follow your instincts.
Know that this is a stage
The way your kid acts during puberty is not how they’ll be as an adult. This is not a crisis of character. They are going through a transition, a developmental stage.
Manage your own stress
This is a stressful time for your kid, which means it’s going to be a stressful time for you. That means you’ll need to be really careful with your own stress and decrease it as much as possible so that you can be present for your kid during this process.
I go way deeper into each of these tips in the Emotionally Healthy Middle Schooler and Emotionally Healthy Teen classes. If you want to show up with more compassion, understanding and tolerance during the emotional shit storm of puberty, this is the place for you. Learn more here.
- How the physical changes of puberty cause more stress for your kid
- The brain-body feedback loop of stress and hormones
- Why we see big mood swings during adolescence
- 5 ways to care for your kid and yourself through puberty
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