The ‘P’ word

I remember hearing my parents talking about me in the next room. “He must be going through puberty.” I felt angry, judged and misunderstood. Am I the only one who still feels a little awkward saying the word out loud?

It wasn’t until my thirties when I had my penny-drop moment about puberty. A paediatric doctor was on our podcast for parents, discussing how we talk to children about their growing bodies. Without any fanfare she said, “Puberty is God’s way of preparing our bodies for adulthood.” I apologise if I am the only one who missed this obvious perspective.

God designed our bodies to change as we grow up – from a completely dependent baby in the womb, to a child learning to do things for themselves, to a young person going through puberty and growing in independence to become an adult.  

During this process, let’s help our children and young people to “remember your creator in the days of your youth.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1) As their bodies strengthen and they discover risk taking and sexual attraction, we can point them to their creator; they are not their own but his. 

We can affirm and encourage them. This is not the time to hope someone better is in their ear. Tell them that you see their body is changing. Show excitement and interest. Listen. Ask questions. Don’t step back, assuming they only want to hang out with their mates. Open your home. Welcome all comers in. Let it be your kitchen that is their safe place. Don’t imagine that they find these changes straightforward. It is the first time they are learning to live in their new body. Don’t patronise them. Their feelings are real.

Girls, in particular, may wish they weren’t going through puberty, or even that they were a boy. Suddenly their body can feel vulnerable: to sexual advances, to abuse, to an unexpected period, to comparisons. School suddenly is more daunting. The changing room is intimidating. The dropout rates in girls’ sport is so sad. 

On the same podcast episode, our guest said, “You do know Ed, that you are the best person to talk to your daughter about her body?” I was about to explain how I seemed to have missed that Biology class, when she carried on, “There is a picture I can show you and perhaps a few words I can teach you, but after that you would be better than me at knowing when to start a conversation, when to stop the conversation and when to just give her a big hug.” That’s true. We have nothing to be afraid of and our children need us more than anyone else. 

There are so many helpful questions we could ask. Have you learnt how to use a tampon or sanitary towel? Are you clear that your strong, male body is a gift from God to protect your brothers and sisters not to hurt them? Have you heard that it’s very common to find yourself suddenly attracted to someone of the same sex (or to a celebrity)? You know that you don’t have to announce it to the world, as usually our sexual attractions fluctuate as we grow up? Have you wondered what kind of man or woman you want to grow up into? Have you found a role model in church who seems interested in the same things you are? 

Our new resource, Growing Up: God’s Good Story aims to begin conversations about bodies, puberty, gender and desires with the children in our churches and to support parents in these conversations at home. We want our children to know that God is relevant to every topic and that their homes and churches are places where real life is talked about, offering them truth with compassion. 

Ed Drew

This article first appeared in the July 2024 edition of Evangelicals Now