Talking sexuality issues can be daunting, and there is no way you can talk puberty without delving deeply into sexuality.
By Bob Kisiki
Annabella had been watching When Harry met Sally with her twin children - Denis and Damalie - when one of "Moviedom's" most notorious scenes happened. Have you watched the movie, for starters? You need to. Then you will understand what we are up to.
It was right smack in the midst of Sally's shaking and quaking that Anabella chose to pause the flick and turn to the pre-teen children and said, "Do you people understand what is going on here?" for, in that scene, Sally is faking some sexual antics in a restaurant, surrounded by other diners!
Talking sexuality issues can be daunting, and there is no way you can talk puberty without delving deeply into sexuality. Puberty is about sexuality and sexuality is the sum total of how people experience and express themselves sexually. It involves physical (bodily), emotional, biological, erotic, social and spiritual attributes.
Yet, daunting as sexuality issues are, it is self-defeating not to introduce them to your children because they are directly affected by what happens to them around puberty.
Puberty, like birth and death, is mandatory for anyone who stays alive through the years when people go through it. It is not optional; it is not selective.
But when and how should you talk to your children about puberty?
In general terms and without being prescriptive, the talks should begin before the puberty signs begin. Prepare the children for what they will surely experience. And notice that I said "talks", because you will not hold one grand talk like a public seminar; you need to intentionally grab various opportunities to talk to them.
Even then, ensure you do not make it formal. Let the opportunities be circumstantial like Annabella did with her twins. The idea is to get the child to feel comfortable discussing what would otherwise have been a difficult topic; but also, to get time to cover the various aspects of puberty. The talks need to be conversational, matter-of-fact and done in a reassuring manner.
It is important not to sound like a know-it-all or a workshop facilitator.
First, find out what the child knows. Have they learnt anything about puberty in class? Does she know why certain things about her body are beginning to change? How does she feel about those changes? When he notices, for instance, that his testicles are becoming bigger, does he think it is a sickness or he anticipated it and is okay with the new size? Is he happy about it or uncomfortable? It is after they have told you what they know and how they feel about the changes - actual or anticipated - that you will know what to tell them, as well as how to say it. Because think about it, you do not want to sound scaring or confusing.
Even when you have all the facts, it is important to pepper them with appropriate information that debunks myths and false information about puberty. For instance, do all children of a given age experience puberty at the same time? Is it true that when girls of a given age group sleep in the same dormitory they get their period at the same time? Is it true that when a boy begins to get wet dreams or get sexual desire he must sleep with a girl?
Truth is, you are not the only person who seeks to influence your child at this stage. There are men who notice that your girl is filling out the flesh in the proverbial "right places" — getting the figure of a woman. While those features — more flesh around the hips; bigger breasts and thighs — prepare her for possible motherhood, they do not necessarily mean that she must become a mother immediately.
Yet, unfortunately, that's how some people may perceive it and they will want to assign themselves the role of making her a mother.
Because puberty comes accompanied by odours and other discernible signs, such as pimples, your child needs to be helped in how to cope with them, so that they are comfortable, but also so that they do not inconvenience the public. They should, therefore, be taught how to maintain good hygiene.
Teach them to carry at least two handkerchiefs with them wherever they go. Teach them to wash their underwear regularly. Teach the girls proper disposal of STs. Teach them to conduct themselves well around people of the opposite sex, so they are not misread.
At this point, little innocent things they say or do can be read in a diversity of ways, depending on the audience. Teach them values, and it would be great if you modelled those values.
Besides bodily changes, puberty also comes with emotional and social changes. Tell your child that we all go through these changes, so the should not be worried about their "condition". It is okay; they will be fine.
The boys, especially, can be quite uncomfortable with their unsteady voice; one time sounding squeaky and the next sounding deep. Let them not feel inferior because in no time they will stabilise with a voice they will be proud of.
If the girl's bust gets a tad too pronounced, it will most definitely attract (unwelcome) stares. Let that not unnerve her; she should just ensure that she does not flaunt it or attack every person she catches ogling her, else she will be spending the entire day attacking people. And, at the spiritual level, let them know that
God intended for these changes to happen at this stage so that they are ready to play certain roles that build society, but which also glorify God.
This means, therefore, that they must know that for everything, there's a right time. The time for breasts to grow is not necessarily the time to employ them. The time for a boy to begin emitting semen does not mean it's time to deposit it inside a woman. For everything, there is a (right) time.
If there is one thing you might not need lots of convincing to do when puberty sets in, it is stocking up on food. Give them cereals; stock up on fruits; have lots of juice to drink and anything else that will keep them healthy and strong.
Talking about strong, they will certainly have lots of energy because, heck, they are eating a lot. So again have a plan to keep them meaningfully busy, so they can safely expend that energy. If you do not (and this is no threat), they will be spending it in ways that could lead them to court and you to the supermarket buying your grandchild diapers, cots and pushchairs.
And oh, there are other costs involved besides buying lots of food.
Have you experienced the smell of a boy in puberty? It is far from pleasant. So yeah, they will need deodorant and even cologne. I guess it is the same with girls, especially when the
Red Badge of Courage comes up.
And now, having used that euphemism about the menstrual cycle, which I have referred to as the Red Badge of Courage, let me make this appeal: In talking to your children about puberty, it is best you call a spade a spade. You will think, Bob, can't referring to bees and flowers suffice? Why should I say the real thing? Here's why: Euphemisms might save you from what you think is an embarrassment, but they risk denying you making your point clear. Not everything is known to everyone.
Besides, euphemisms create the impression that certain body parts, their [re]actions and functions are shameful, thus the need for referring to them with "polite" names.
So, friend, you need to swallow an axe and learn to say vagina, penis, pubic hair and so on.
But when and how should you talk to your children about puberty? In general terms and without being prescriptive, the talks should begin before the puberty signs begin.