Teaching Tweens: Boys and dads learn about puberty
BY KAREN HUELSMAN For Sun-Times Media
In the realm of puberty education, Valley West Community Hospital is something of a trailblazer. Not only does the Sandwich hospital offer a mother/daughter program, but for the last six years the hospital also has hosted “Boys Only…Your Changing Body” for boys ages 9 through 12 and their fathers.
“The educators felt the programs had been so successful for girls, that the boys should have a chance to discuss what’s going on too,” said Cindy Johnston, Community Wellness Supervisor at Valley West.
“Although the schools do a great job preparing kids for what’s happening, those programs don’t address the bond between parent and child,” Johnston said. “Our program really strengthens that bond because kids and parents are hearing the same information and discuss it right away.”
Community Wellness Educator Cameron Wiegartz, who leads the “Boys Only” sessions, agreed that the interaction between a boy and his dad, grandfather or other male role model, is what makes the hospital program unique. “We really open the door for further conversation.”
Wiegartz said he points out to the boys that because their dads took the time to attend the event, dads are showing they really care. “It’s OK to talk to Dad later about this stuff.”
“We focus on body changes, the voice changing, the hair and muscle development for this age group,” he said. “One of the things I try to reinforce is that everybody is different, and everybody is going to grow at a different rate. I think some of them are reassured that they are ‘normal’.”
He observed that the boys pay close attention, and he can tell when a topic resonates with a participant because he can read the “Aha” moment on the boy’s face. As a registered nurse who is no longer involved in clinical care, Wiegartz said that’s a professionally rewarding experience.
Wiegartz also said he has added some issues to the program throughout the years. He is now discussing body types and images, a topic that gets a lot of attention as it relates to pre-teen girls.
“The boys have to realize that when you look at a picture of a pro athlete on the cover of a magazine, that is not a normal body type. The picture may have been enhanced or the athlete may be taking drugs,” Wiegartz said. “That body is not the goal, and for a majority of the population, isn’t even attainable.”
One of the takeaways is that eventually you end up with a teen body, and that nobody should feel “weird” because they are going through puberty earlier or later than their friends, Wiegartz said.
Parents and pre-teens consistently evaluate the program highly, and they are well-attended, Johnston said. Valley West offers the program for boys three times a year, with the next program slated for July 23.
More resources for parents
These titles are available through your Sandwich-area library consortium.
The Boy's Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU; Dunham, Kelli; 2007; Recommended for ages 10 and up
The Body Book for Boys; Mar, Jonathan; 2010; Recommended for ages 10 and up
Growing Up Boy Talk: A Survival Guide to Growing Up; Plaisted, C.A. and Dickason, Chris; 2011; Recommended for ages 9 and up