Modern Male Puberty is Awkward

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Modern male puberty starts earlier than you think.

It may start as early as age 9 in boys – which means that the mood swings you’re seeing in your 10-year-old son could well be puberty-related. After all, as Cara Natterson & Vanessa Kroll Bennett write in their book This is So Awkward: Modern Puberty Explained, “The very first sign of puberty in most kids is a slamming door.” 

Most parents of boys aren’t prepared for male puberty. (And may be in denial when the first signs start appearing.) The earliest physical symptoms of male puberty aren’t obvious & typically occur around the same time your son starts seeking more privacy. So “you might not actually know when your kid is in puberty,” Vanessa says.

Why your 10-year-old son may be acting like a 16-year-old

Sex hormones fuel the physical changes that occur during puberty. (Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone.) These hormones also have a tremendous impact on our kids’ moods and well-being. And high levels of testosterone are linked to rage, as well as boys’ “swing to silence” during puberty.

“When those hormones rise and fall, they do not do so gracefully,” says Cara, a pediatrician. “They do not do so slowly. It’s high, high, HIGH, rapid surge, and then you’re off the edge of the cliff and you’re pummeling to the floor. Those hormones drop and bottom out.” These swings can happen in a matter of hours. And that, Cara says, “is what you are seeing when your kid behaves like a jerk.”

Kids don’t enjoy those sudden shifts and swings either. “Their brain is being bathed in a stew of hormones that is not familiar to them, and they don’t know how to manage how they feel as a result of this cocktail that is saturating all of the neurons in the brain,” Cara says.

Boys’ brains are still maturing during puberty too. They don’t yet have fully mature emotional regulation systems. And while they need to learn how to control their behavior, it takes time (and, typically, many mistakes) to develop consistent behavioral control. So, parents, educators, and other adults need to extend grace and compassion to tweens and teens.

“We have to give them the benefit of the doubt,” Vanessa says. “And give them a way back. They don’t feel good when they get that angry or emotional or react violently. They may feel ashamed or embarrassed.”

Surviving your son’s adolescence

It is completely normal to feel grief, doubt, anger, and fear as your son moves through puberty. During adolescence, boys (and girls) pull away from their parents. That separation is necessary and normal, but can feel like rejection to parents. It’s okay to grieve and feel sad. Take comfort, though, in the fact that boys typically “come back” to their parents as they reach the far side of puberty.

Your son may well be annoying, thoughtless, disrespectful, disorganized, smelly, and messy during puberty. None of that means he’ll end up that way as an adult. And none of it means that you’re doing (or have done) something wrong.

“The path to building kind, empathic, loving, thoughtful men is a very windy, bumpy road,” Vanessa says. “And at every step of the way, it can be really tempting to lose faith.”

When a boy reacts angrily or violently, stay calm. Give them space. Connect with them after they’ve cooled down. During calmer times, teach & talk about emotions. Navigate puberty along your son, seeking support as needed.

In this episode, Jen, Cara, & Vanessa discuss:
  • The #1 question Cara & Vanessa get about male puberty
  • Acknowledging the grief & sadness you may feel as your son enters puberty
  • Building men
  • How (& why) hormones affect teen boys’ behavior
  • Puberty & perimenopause
  • Helping boys manage their mood swings
  • Wet dreams
  • Talking about safer sex, contraception, family planning, intimacy, consent, & loving relationships
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

This is So Awkward: Modern Puberty Explained, by Cara Natterson, MD & Vanessa Kroll Bennett — Cara & Vanessa’s website (includes links to their books, newsletter, podcast, & talks)

The Puberty Podcast — Cara & Vanessa’s podcast (Don’t miss Jen on their podcast — Building Boys with Jennifer Fink)

Decoding Boys w Dr. Cara Natterson –– ON BOYS episode

The Truth About Parenting Teen Boys — the famous BuildingBoys post about 14-yr-old boys being a**holes

Puberty, Perimenopause, & Midlife Parenting — ON BOYS episode

Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys, by Cara Natterson

Guy Stuff Feelings: Everything You Need to Know About Your Emotions, by Cara Natterson

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