Tonight, my two sons and I attended the first night of “Great Conversations for Boys Only.” There were about 70 men with their 10-13 year old sons (and a couple of moms). Every kid had that dreaded look of “do I really have to be here for this?” And more than a few dads had the same look.
As the instructor introduced himself, he asked how many of the guys there booked the class themselves. Turns out that more than 70% of them were signed up by their wife (including me). Either way, it was a good class that introduced topics that we on the minds of both the kids and parents there.
- What boys experience in puberty (muscle growth, hair growth, changes in hormones, reproductive system and skin)
- Problem solving and practical ideas for managing changes
- Common concerns for puberty, including pimples, nutrition, sleep, masturbation, and personal care.
- Myths related to growing up.
Some key takeaways for me:
It was interesting to think about how I learned this stuff. Mostly from my friends. I was in 5th grade when my friends started talking about girls and body parts, before we’d seen the “program” put on by the school. My dad also did his “talk” a few times, but I still remember us both being a little uncomfortable.
3 things kids need to know:
- It’s normal to worry about being normal. Everyone wants to fit in.
- You can be different and still be normal. Some start puberty when their 8 or 9, others as late as 15.
- It’s okay to talk about and ask questions about growing up. In fact, the main point of the class was to make it easier to talk about topics that need to be discussed.
4 things most boys ask about:
- Acne. Most acne comes from bacteria in skin pores. Cleaning helps. Some is from over-active skin cell production—it’s just a byproduct of hormones. Oily food doesn’t cause pimples. Best thing is to leave the infections alone, don’t pick away at it. Best topical solution is 5% Benzoil Peroxide and Salicylic Acid.
- Shaving. Beards come in slowly, usually only in late teens. Shaving doesn’t speed up hair growth, but can clip off thin hair ends, making the hair thicker. Facial hair might make you feel older or more mature. But wispy mustaches look stooooopid. (Just ask me, I had one all through high school.)
- Body Odor. You might not smell it yourself, make sure you clean yourself. It’s the bacteria that smells. Use deodorant, not antiperspirant. It’s good to sweat, but it’s good to smell good.
- Muscles. Make sure you don’t try to be all buff and muscle-y when you’re still growing. Wait until later in high school to do serious weight training. And steroids are bad, bad, bad.
One thing I didn’t know, only about half of American men/boys are circumcised. It’s becoming more and more normal not to do it—it seems unnecessary except for religious reasons.
The instructor recommended having books around that are age-appropriate, but cover intimate topics. His favorite books are It’s So Amazing, and It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris. It gives kids a place to go to learn what’s happening to their bodies, and what to expect. It can also serve as a way to keep the conversation going.
Some fun stuff:
He mentioned that the word “Penis” is kind of a funny word. The crowd named about 30 other words it is known by, several I’d never heard. We then all sang “The Penis Opera,” with the boys singing the word in high voices, and the men singing in low voices. It kind of broke the ice, and made everyone a little more comfortable talking about it. I wish I had a recording of it, it’d be a hit on YouTube…
When he talked about masturbation, he mentioned all the ways adults lied to us: going blind, hairy palms, start up your sex drive like a factory you can’t turn off, run out of sperm, you’ll go insane. He said it might be fun for kids to get their parents' attention sometime just by using the word at the dinner table sometime. Ya, I think that’d work. I know in my house, growing up, it was something that was forbidden for religious reasons, and certainly taboo talking about. The instructor didn’t make any moral judgments about it, didn’t say it was okay or it wasn’t, but just talked about the physiology of it, then allowed parents to talk about it with their kids later.
We ended with homework. Dads get to talk about 3 things that are great about growing up, and boys need to name 3 people you can ask questions to, other than dad. After, we went to Kidd Valley to celebrate surviving...
Great class, highly recommended. I’m looking forward to part two later in the week.