Dad, what are the signs of puberty?

I’ll never forget the morning my thirteen-year-old son asked me, “Dad, what are the signs of puberty? How will I know when I’m in it?”

I answered in as informational-dispensing, flat, so-as-not-to-embarrass-my-son kind of tone I could fake, “Well, you may feel and see some changes in your body such as feeling some growing pains, perhaps emotional changes such as more highs and lows, growing hair under your arms and here (I pointed to myself through my pants) above your penis called pubic hair, and you may notice your voice changing some, taking on a deeper tone.”

I appeared completely stoic, calm, and educated, I hope. Inside, I was thinking, Are you kidding me? Are we having this conversation over a breakfast sandwich? Our little ones grow up so quickly. How would you have answered this question?

Let’s Look it Up

In a second effort to keep my composure and alleviate the potential weirdness for my inquisitive son, I simply said, “You know, I’m certainly no expert on puberty; it’s only been about a hundred years since I went through it. Why don’t we look it up and see what we can learn together.”

He laughed, probably less at my attempt at humor and more to let some tension out of the air, and enthusiastically said, “Great idea, Dad.”

The first article we found was a good one. I read it out loud to him as he finished his breakfast.

Their good information is worth sharing. That post listed some of the more typical signs of puberty in boys. “Keep in mind that these stages may appear gradually, and it may take several years for your child to completely cycle through all the phases of puberty. In general, boys begin puberty at some point between the ages of 9 and 14. Girls begin puberty between the ages of 8 and 12.”

My son said, “Well, I must be in it if that’s the age range.” We both smiled, sharing what felt like insider information. Here are the lists they posted:

Physical Changes

  • Growth spurts
  • Appearance of facial hair
  • Broadening of shoulder muscles, development of chest muscles
  • Body odor (I raised my eyebrows at him, and we both laughed at that one)
  • Pimples or facial breakouts
  • Hair growth in pubic area and underarm area
  • Growth of testicles
  • Erections or wet dreams
  • Deepening of the voice, although this is more likely in the later stages of puberty

Emotional Changes

  • Interest in the opposite sex
  • Mood changes
  • Anxiety or excitement about the changes he’s going through
  • Less talkative and open with parents
  • Shy, nervousness around girls, or flirtatious with girls

“What are wet dreams, Dad?”

Of course, you guessed it—his first question. So I got to answer that one next.

“Well, you know that to make a baby, a man has to get his seed called sperm inside the woman where his sperm meets up with her egg and when that happens, a baby starts to grow inside her, right?” He nodded his head like a deer caught in the headlights, clearly a little afraid of where this was going.

“Well, if it hasn’t started yet, it will soon, but your testicles—you know what those are, right?”

“You mean your balls?”

“Right, your balls. So that’s where the sperm factory is in a man. Your balls produce millions and millions of sperm. But your balls are only this big.” With my thumb and pointer finger I formed a small circle. “So your balls can hold millions and millions of sperm, but they can’t hold millions and millions and millions and millions of them. Right?” He nodded slowly, barely tracking with me, but obviously fascinated.

“So the body’s way of keeping your balls from exploding is to release the build up of sperm.”

He laughed out loud, and I relaxed more, seeing that using some humor was making this easier for both of us.

He looked at me with this I-can’t-believe-we’re-having-this-conversation expression, but I also saw the relief on his face. He was getting some answers from someone he trusted. His dad was talking to him man to man, and he loved it. So I continued.

“So when you’re balls are full and about to explode, the body sends an impulse to release some of those sperm. That can happen when you’re a man and you put some of those sperm inside your wife, or when you touch yourself and it feels good and some of the sperm come out, or it can happen at night when you’re asleep. One morning you may wake up and your pajamas or underwear might be wet with some sperm, which will look like white goo. It’s totally normal and nothing to be embarrassed about. It happens to all young men who are going through puberty. Make sense?”

He just smiled and said, “Yeah, makes sense. That hasn’t happened to me yet.”

All This Over Breakfast

This conversation reminded me about the mythical contrast between quality time and quantity time—a clever distinction a likely guilt-ridden father created years ago to justify not spending lots of time with his kids. The reality is that without quantity time, there is little quality time. You can’t schedule quality time with your kids—or orchestrate it on your calendar. And here’s why. Kids don’t spell love G-I-F-T-S, or A-D-V-E-N-T-U-R-E-S, or even P-R-O-V-I-S-I-O-N. Sometimes we wish they did, but countless stories of lonely children will tell you otherwise.

We busy dads need to face the well-established reality that children spell love one way: T-I-M-E. And as one of my other sons added one day, “You should tell them we spell love D-A-D-T-I-M-E.”

This seemingly random conversation I had with my thirteen-year-old son about puberty at breakfast that morning reminded me that if we were not having this time together, and if it was not simply one more moment in a very long string of them, we might never have developed the kind of friendship and closeness in which he would feel comfortable asking such a vulnerable question. He knew I wouldn’t make a complete joke out of it, or make fun of him, or be embarrassed myself and shy away from or avoid it. He knew he could trust me to answer him honestly, and with love, and with some humor, as I did that day.

The relationship we developed over years of quantity time paved the way for that potentially awkward yet important and honest conversation that morning. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

“Thanks, Dad. That would be kind of a hard question to ask Mom, ya’ know?”

“I do know, Son. That’s kind of a dad and son thing to talk about.”

He smiled and shifted the subject, “What are we going to do now?”

End of biology class.

Beginning of a new phase of father-son relating.

Dad Teen Thumbs UpYour Turn

When your kids ask you such questions, are you prepared to answer? Does the relationship you have with your children allow for—even invite—these open, honest, vulnerable conversations?

If you want or need some help, I’m here. Please leave a comment and I will respond.

Close relationships with your kids that allow for and invite these fathering moments do not happen by chance. They are planted as seeds early on, nurtured throughout their lives, and carefully managed when your kids need a father’s love. I’ve coached and taught hundreds of dads how to do this. I’m here to help you if you want help. The easy-to-master fathering skills I teach work wonders for busy dads, married or not, who want to be great dads. Check out my FREE training videos for more.

Great Dads Shape Great Kids.

Be a Great Dad Today.


To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

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How I Know I’m NOT a Super Cool Dad

Charlie Andy Image

We might all secretly want to be like Charlie and Andy (—witty and handsome and casually brilliant, the quintessential young, hip dads. And there are definitely moments when I still believe that I just might be a lot like them, like when I step out of the shower and catch my reflection in the mirror, flexing my muscles and pretending I’m Superman. I make smoldering expressions and set my jaw, momentarily enjoying the imposing reflection looking back at me. But then something interrupts my fantasy, like my seventeen-year-old son walking by my door and casually remarking that my once washboard stomach now looks like a pouch where I store my extra cookies.

There was a time when I thought I was super cool, when I thought, Hey, I’ll bet all those other dads on the playground are jealous because I’m so athletic and young and handsome and so good with my boys. I like to live in this unrealistic, parallel universe as often as possible, relishing in the memory of the stud I like to believe I was before I had kids. And it’s in this altered state of consciousness when I often make my biggest mistakes.

Kids have a fantastic way of reminding you that you are now a Yoda shell of your former self—like the time I took my teenage boys snowboarding for the first time. I said to myself, You are a former Berkeley Rugby Champion who led his team to a national title. You’re an athlete. You got this. You can certainly snowboard. So I took to the hill with the same wild abandon as my boys, only to realize that no, perhaps my body doesn’t move in the same limber, noodle-like way that comes so effortlessly to teenage boys. I lost my battle with the board, caught an edge, and slammed my body face-first into the ice, breaking three ribs. I spent three weeks silently cursing my hope to be a super cool dad, each breath like a shard of glass in my chest—but even more so to my ego.

A second time I realized that I wasn’t such a super cool dad was when I learned that my boys’ favorite way to impress new acquaintances was to tell them stories about my delinquent past. “Oh my dad is so awesome,” they’d say, huge grins on their faces as my chest swelled with pride, only to finish the sentence with “Dad, tell them about the time when you got arrested at Stanford for stealing the sign off the Maples Pavilion!” There was an awkward silence after that as the new pastor for our church quickly excused himself to “attend to an important matter,” and I wondered at the lessons my children had picked up about the art of social graces, quietly concerned that they may have in fact inherited my delinquency themselves.

But perhaps nothing drives home for a man that he is not super cool more than the day when he loses his hair. I was very proud of my Afro in my twenties. I took great pride in shaping it and using a pick to make it perfect. (Ok maybe I’m admitting too much here). But I’ll never forget the day when, at the tender age of 27, I went to the hairdresser and asked for a trim, same length all over and let it curl back in. My bold, imposing, female, black hairdresser leaned down, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Boy, you keep cuttin’ your hair like that and you gonna look like Bozo!” That was the day I knew: it was time to shave it all off. But if that weren’t enough to kill my already fragile ego, these days when I casually remark that I need to go and get a haircut, my boys love to say, “Why? You don’t have any hair.”

Kids definitely have a way of driving home the fact that you might not be a super cool dad. But whether I ever again may be considered cool or not, I do know how much I love my kids, and that they love me. And maybe that’s all that really matters, anyway.

Here to Help

If you want or need some help being the dad you want to be, even if it doesn’t mean being super cool, I’m here. Please leave a comment and I will respond.

Close relationships with your kids that allow for and invite these fathering moments do not happen by chance. They are planted as seeds early on, nurtured throughout their lives, and carefully managed when your kids need a father’s love. I’ve coached and taught hundreds of dads how to do this. I’m here to help you if you want help. The easy-to-master fathering skills I teach work wonders for busy dads, married or not, who want to be great dads. Check out my FREE training videos for more.

Great Dads Shape Great Kids.
Be a Great Dad Today.

P.S. My oldest son just started martial arts. I think I might try that next. I’ve heard you don’t even need hair for that.

davd ma image


To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

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