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Puberty in boys: not a cake walk

Puberty in boys: not a cake walk

A young boy's journey towards adulthood brings physical as well as emotional changes, and parents need to be vigilant yet understanding during this time
Puberty in boys brings physical as well as emotional changes and parents need to be vigilant yet understanding during this time
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health

Hormones influence the behaviour of a teenage boy apart from his appearance. A young boy’s journey towards manhood not only comes with physical changes, but also with a gush of emotions.

“The puberty phase between 11-17 years is challenging for most boys as they transition from adolescence to adulthood,” says Himani Gupte, parenting educator and family counsellor from Nagpur, Maharashtra.

It wasn’t easy for 16-year-old Swayam (name changed) when he experienced an emotional upheaval in tenth standard. He grew a beard and became taller and broader. He also developed a love interest with a junior schoolmate. Everything was fine until he had to relocate to a new city with his family. His parents had to consult Gupte five months later as they were worried about his behaviour.

Gupte recalls that Swayam was extremely quiet and detached initially. His academic and co-curricular performance took a sudden dip. “Gradually, he spoke his mind,” she adds.

“The transition years from adolescence to adulthood is marked by individuation (forming a strong and unique personality),” says Gupte.

Swayam felt that his mother judged him, disregarded his friendship with a girl and completely reprimanded his social media usage. She did not pay him any heed.

The same was the case for Abhay who was mostly anxious and socially withdrawn at 14 years old. “The sudden sluggishness in academics was brought to my attention through his teachers. This became a common phenomenon for almost a year,” says his mother, Aparna N from Bengaluru, Karnataka, as she recalls her son’s teenage years.

Transitioning through puberty

“When boys hit puberty, they are more stressed out than girls as their developmental changes are very evident and not discussed openly,” says Gupte.

Ankita Biswas, clinical psychologist for Therapheal, enumerates the various challenges:

  • Physical changes: These changes include growth of sexual organs (such as testicles and penis), changes in voice, height, body mass and strength along with development of facial, pubic and underarm hair. Male puberty largely indicates sexual maturity. Studies suggest that wet dreams (nocturnal emissions of semen) are one of the dramatic changes relating to sexual maturity and men all over the world have fear and anxiety associated with it.
  • Emotional demands: They experience a massive emotional turbulence which is expressed in the form of anger, anxiety, aggression and social withdrawal.  There also face issues like depression, personality complexes (inferiority or superiority) and low self-esteem.
  • New social roles and responsibilities: This is the age when they aim to be autonomous and self-sufficient, as a result of which they demand more independence in terms of mobility and decision making. They fail to understand the thin line between autonomy and compliance. Additionally, they are also accommodating to the new social expectations (which can include preparing for board exams, making career choices, managing personal expenditure, taking care of a grandparent, sharing household responsibilities, etc.).
  • Peer pressure: For most boys, friends become more significant than parents. In addition, there is a newfound interest in the opposite sex. The excessive pressure to fit in along with the constant competition with peers for bodily changes, social and economic status, and academic or co-curricular performance are common. In some cases, the pressure can also affect their lifestyle choices (like substance use or disruptions in romantic relationships).

Philip Francis (25), an engineer from Sweden, recalls his high-school years and says, “At 16, I had made my career choice and enlisted in my desired universities. I was always a responsible, organised and meticulous child. However, the phase between 13 and 16 years was difficult. When I did not know what to do or how to react, I experienced a deep anxiety. This was because I wanted to do it right the first time.”

Biswas attributes this to their urge to “grow up.” She adds, “The issue arises when they are told that they aren’t ‘old enough’ by the parents.” Conversely, Francis says, “Having supportive parents and a good set of friends definitely helped.”

How can parents help?

  • Saying it is okay to not be okay: The talking cure is always helpful.  Aparna recalls, “My son was detached and aggressive towards social expectations. I explained to him that these challenges are normal. Gradually, we discussed about his fears and conflicts. His teachers helped immensely by being considerate and encouraging.”
  • Explaining responsibilities attached with autonomy: Adolescents demand autonomy. However, there are risks involved. Dr Preethi Anne Ninan, clinical psychologist from Bangalore Baptist Hospital, says, “Parents should communicate the dangers of risky behaviour.” Engagement of adolescents in digital space is a growing concern. A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Psychology emphasised that parental emotional support and control strongly influences adolescent internet addiction.
  • Leading by example: Always lead by example. Dr Gupte explains, “If a parent wants to regulate an adolescent’s social media dependence, he/she should be realistic. Know that social media is here to stay. When one says, ‘No phones after 10 pm’, the same rule should apply to the parent too.”
  • Communicating honestly without judgement: “Open and healthy communication can make a teen turn to his/her parents for advice when he/she is experiencing difficulties,” says Dr Ninan.


  • Be open and honest while communicating.
  • Be friendly as a parent.
  • Lead by example.
  • Appreciate their good deeds.
  • Provide constructive criticism.
  • Reason out and explain rather than impose.
  • Avoid reprimanding, judgement or comparison.
  • Explain the risks of social media usage, cyber security and cyber bullying.

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