Health Class 101: Adolescence

This is a game changer - your child is becoming a sexual adult and realizing the potential inherent in gender.

Hormones are the key to the brain-body connection in puberty, the seeming lifeblood of every teen. Now, I don't want to return us all to the thrilling days of yesteryear when we sat mortified in health class, wishing we could somehow fade into invisibility, but it's impossible to understand teens without talking about sex and its unique hormonal stew. Your teen, during adolescence and through the process of puberty, is becoming a sexual being. This is a game changer - your child is becoming a sexual adult and realizing the potential inherent in gender.

I remember growing up in a weird time when the differences between male and female were intentionally downplayed as a way to achieve gender equality. People were to be considered androgynous in everything except physical body parts. Any substantive differences between the sexes were viewed as environmental and cultural, not genetic or inherent. It was a sort of one-sided version of the "people are people" mentality, with everyone supposed to think, act, and learn the same. Gender differences were muted, and any mention of them hushed and frowned upon, as if you'd belched during a funeral.

Thankfully, that phase of "there are no real differences between girls and boys" didn't last long, as cultural concepts go - certainly not more than a couple of decades. Now that it is permissible (at least in many circles) to openly discuss the differences between girls and boys again, there is a tremendous amount of research going on - research that clearly demonstrates that, yes, there are significant differences between boys and girls. These differences are not only in how their bodies mature but also in how their brains develop. (If you really enjoy research articles,you could browse through "Sexual Dimorphism of Brain Development Trajectories during Childhood and Adolescence," or "Sex-Related Developmental Differences in the Lateralized Activation of the Prefrontal Cortex and Amygdala during Perception of Facial Affect.") There is just a wealth of research out there, all providing quantifiable data to what parents have known pretty much all along - girls and boys are different.

The above is excerpted from Chapter 5 of my new book, The Stranger in Your House. I'll be posting more excerpts from it here in the weeks to come, but you can receive a free copy of the book itself between now and December 15, 2011. To participate in this book giveaway, simply share some of your own thoughts or experiences about raising teenagers - in the comments section of this or future blog posts about the book.

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