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What to Expect When Puberty Hits

What to Expect When You Have a Boy

Muscles

When to expect them: Somewhere between age 11 and late teens (and for some, even early adulthood)

What to expect: He won't look like Arnold Schwarzenegger overnight, but your son will start getting more muscular, mostly in his arms and shoulders. The male puberty hormone, testosterone, is working with growth hormones to make him fill out. Don't be surprised if you catch him making Hulk poses in the mirror—or asking for dumbbells. Dede King, a Brownsville, PA, mom of five, says that every night before bed, her 10-year-old, Cameron, does two sets of light weights he bought with her permission. "It's kind of humorous that I'm reading him his Boxcar Children story at the same time that he's trying to bulk up to look like a man," King says.

How to deal: He might be in a rush to keep up with his pals, but his developing muscles won't be able to withstand heavy weight lifting until he's about 13 years old, and even then it's important for him to have supervision and to increase weight slowly. Explain to him that the best way to build up his muscles is by eating healthfully and doing all the things kids do—running, jumping, playing—and doing team sports, says Charles Cappetta, M.D, adjunct associate professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. And if he wants to "work out," calisthenics, like push-ups, pull-ups, and squats, are better for him now and still build muscles. Sweating it out five days a week is plenty, no more than one hour a day.

Wet dreams + Masturbation

When to expect them: Between 10 and 14 for wet dreams; around 12 or 13 for masturbation (though it can begin sooner)

What to expect: As his body produces more testosterone, your son may start to ejaculate semen at night. Sometimes an erotic dream accompanies these releases; sometimes it doesn't. If they weren't masturbating before, most boys will figure out how to pleasure themselves around the time they hit puberty. (Girls masturbate, too—it just seems to be a bigger part of boys' lives.) Nona*, a mom from Atlanta, suspects her 11-year-old son has been masturbating for at least a year. He "politely goes into his room, closes the door, and goes to town!" she says. "How do I know? Well, he practically jumps off the bed each time I open the door. I'm not quite sure why he hasn't figured out that he can just lock it."

How to deal: If you haven't talked to your son about wet dreams and he has one, he might think he's peed in the bed, so give him the 411 and tell him this is perfectly normal. If he's embarrassed by the thought of his mom or dad changing his wet sheets, put an extra set in his closet and show him how to change the bed himself.

Also, try to remember that masturbation is normal human behavior—even though it's emotionally hard to accept the fact that your child is evolving into a sexual being. The more you remind yourself of this, the easier it will be to discuss it with him, while laying down some rules. Let him know that pleasuring himself is something he should do in private, and that he should never do it in a public place or a heavily trafficked room in the house where people could walk in on him. Parents have a new responsibility, too: It's time to start knocking on the bedroom door before barging in.

If you (or your tween) find it too uncomfortable to bring up the subject, try this: Kathy*, of Greenbrae, CA, fills an envelope with pieces of paper, each with a hot-button tween and teen concern like drinking, wet dreams, or shaving written on it, and has her son, now 15, pick one out every couple of weeks. The goal is to vary the level of mortifying subjects so they all get the same casual approach, says Kathy. "We call them Ten-Minute Topics. He actually looks forward to these conversations, and they often go longer than ten minutes!" 

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