How to talk about: Puberty (Boys)

James Beck and Christian Gallen are part of our Attitude team, and have been for a long time. Between them, they have delivered presentations to over 300,000 young people nationwide, helping them make better choices around drugs and alcohol, sex, depression, youth suicide, technology, social media and having great relationships with their families.

“What is a tampon and do I need one?”
“Why does Bryan have armpit fuzz?”
“How come I can’t hit those high notes in choir anymore?”

If you have a son approaching the teen years, chances are you’ll start to hear questions like these around the house. Which is great! It means your son is ready to find out about the wonderful world of puberty. The question is, are you ready to tell him about it?

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Why talk to your son about puberty?

Very few parents have spent their son’s childhood excitedly anticipating the day that they get to discuss pubic hair, pimples and penis development. To be honest, it makes many parents feel slightly uncomfortable.

But it is more important than ever that your boy can honestly talk to you about his changing body. Especially because your son probably has some questions about it (and girls’ bodies as well). If your son feels like he can’t ask you questions, he’ll probably ask Uncle Google – and you know that searching ‘why are my balls getting hairy?’ could have disastrous results. Google hasn’t always got your family’s values in mind – but you do!

So please continue reading this online content about puberty so your son doesn’t need to read online content about puberty. Actually, one way to talk to your son about puberty is to get him to read this article and chat about it with him.

When’s the best time to have the chat?

Do you bring it up at their birthday party in front of their friends? Do you shout about it from the sideline during their soccer game? Do you talk about it during your speech at their wedding?

The best time to talk about the changes they are going to go through is as soon as they start asking questions. Most toddlers are interested in the fact that they have a penis (this doesn’t change much as they grow older). So making it normal to ask questions, and giving lots of information to quench their thirst for knowledge, is a norm that hopefully you started long before the puberty talk. But don’t worry, if you have spent your son’s childhood calling his penis a doodle, it isn’t too late to start the conversation.

On average, boys begin puberty slightly later than girls (around 11-13). However, research is telling us that by the age of 12, the majority of boys have been exposed to pornography. So taking the time around 10 or 11 to talk to them about change, hormones, the internet and responsible penis ownership is probably a great idea.

Responsible penis ownership is a very important conversation. My suspicion here is that many young men who make mistakes with their penis management, never had someone who they trusted and respected to have an honest conversation with them about the surges of testosterone that their body will experience.

How do you explain puberty?

Firstly explain how to say puberty. It is pewberty, not pub-erty. It is amazing how many young people don’t know that.

Here are the questions we get asked most often and some short answers to them. They’re written as if your son was reading them. We hope it will help.

What is puberty?

It basically means a time of lots of change. Your body will change, your brain will change and your friendships and relationships will change.

When will it start?

I wish there was an exact answer to this. It would be so much easier if you could ask Siri when you were going to start growing pubic hair, but it’s different for everyone. For most boys it’s somewhere between 11 and 13. Some earlier, some later.

Why do we go through puberty?

You go through puberty so that you can be an adult, and get a job and pay the mortgage and experience the stress of the modern world. You also go through puberty so that your body can make more people.

But the main reason that you go through puberty is that your body starts making heaps of a hormone called testosterone, which will make you grow muscles and probably smell a bit worse.

What happens to guys?

Most of the changes that happen in puberty happen to both boys and girls. You grow taller, you will get stronger, your voice will change, your skin may get oilier, you will sweat more and you will grow hair in surprising places. That stuff happens to everyone.

For most boys it means that when you were little you would look at girls and think, “Ew, yuck – girls!” but as you go through puberty you might find yourself thinking differently about girls.

The first things to change are your hands and your feet. They get bigger and most boys also have a growth spurt and get taller – although this is usually a few years after the girls. So for most boys there is an awkward amount of time between Years 7 and 10 where all of the girls are taller than you. Don’t worry, you will catch up.

Stiffys, semen and a squeaky voice. There are some changes that happen only to boys. They start getting erections more. The good news is that they aren’t as obvious as you think and the bad news is that they can happen at inopportune times. There are some simple techniques for disguising a surprise erection and none of them involve a fake moustache and glasses. You could try sitting down, tying up your shoe laces or pointing out the window claiming that you saw a zombie, and whilst everyone is distracted, run away.

The other significant change that happens involves your balls, nuts, or berries. Sounds like healthy raw foods but we are talking about testicles. Your testicles start to make a liquid called semen. While your body is going through puberty your testicles may decide that they want to see if things are operating correctly and while you are asleep they may send some semen out of your penis. This is very normal, but it can be a bit weird if you didn’t know it was going to happen.

So parents, what really matters?

If your son raises an issue, it’s easy to be scared or nervous and to give a lecture as an answer. But try and listen with your heart. Try to remember back to what it was like when you were young.

Adolescence is a stage in life when our kids are constantly comparing themselves to their peers, and lots of young people become insecure about things you never knew mattered to them. Boys will be embarrassed if they are the first with armpit hair and embarrassed if they are the last. Throughout this time they need their parents’ reassurance that despite the pimply, hairy, smelly changes, they are loved and they are okay.

And remember, if your kids can’t talk to you about this exciting time, they will probably go and find the answers somewhere else – maybe even online. And most parents would prefer to have the awkward conversations, than let the internet coach their children through puberty.


Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.

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About Author

Christian Gallen

Christian is a Senior Presenter and National Trainer for Attitude. He has spoken to over 100,000 young people nationwide during his long presenting career. Christian manages all the social media and online content for Attitude and is passionate about seeing young people make great choices online and offline.

3 Comments

  1. My son is already 16 but sometimes I feel like he just hit puberty. Our question and answer about it can pass as a skit to SNL. Not awkward, at all. Puberty is not just a boy’s journey, but his mom or his dad’s too. It’s bittersweet seeing how your baby starts to become a young man. And since I’m no expert when it comes to male anatomy, I thank blogs like this to help me explain it to my son, as straightforward as I can. Or, I just tell him to ask his dad.

  2. Ricci Wesselink on

    Love your article and its humourous informative style. Just one note. Your brain doesn’t make the hormone testosterone, the testes do. The brain (and other body parts) responds to testosterone.
    Love your work supporting familes Parenting place.

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