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Cara Natterson, M.D.
February 11, 2020
Well, buckle up, friends. I hope you’re ready to talk about penises and porn! Decoding Boys takes an in-depth look into what happens to boys during puberty, as well as the major issues they deal with in the process. The book is divided into 11 sections. Sections 1 through 3 explain the actual physical process of puberty—what hormones are being released, when, why, and what they do. Major eye-opening moment for me: boys usually begin the process of going through puberty around age 10!
Section 4 talks about the “normal” range of timing for these changes, specifically focusing on what to do if your son is a late bloomer (i.e., he hasn’t even begun the process of maturation by age 14). Section 5 is basically a heads up that your son’s brain is the absolute last thing to mature (but we all knew that, no offense, guys).
At this point, the book switches focus and begins addressing social and relational topics concerning puberty. Section 6 gives advice on how to talk to boys about sex. The key point here is it’s an ongoing conversation that emphasizes love and acceptance, not fear or judgment.
Section 7 is all about porn, nudes, and consent, and dear Lord it had me sweating. By 8th grade, most boys have seen porn—and usually a lot of it. This isn’t a moral shortcoming of kids or parents. The porn industry is gigantic and well-funded, and it is always marketing, marketing, marketing. Most boys don’t even seek out porn at first; they stumble upon it. The most important thing parents can do is talk to their kids about it. Talk about child porn. Make sure kids know that if minors take naked picture of themselves, send those pictures, receive those pictures, and/or redistribute those pictures, those are all separate counts of possession or distribution of child pornography, all with their own punishments. Kids need to know what to say if someone asks them for a nude or sends them one. They also need to know about consent—not just “no means no,” but also that there needs to be two enthusiastic yeses. And even though the topic can be awkward or even scary for parents, remember to be accepting, go slowly, and just generally be available to answer whatever whenever.
Section 8 is a fascinating look at the body issues boys face. I hadn’t really stopped to consider that, just like girls, boys often feel like they have to live up to an “ideal body type.”
Section 9 is about addiction, how kids are more susceptible to it because their brains aren’t fully formed yet. A parent can do a lot just by delaying access to potential addictions, like porn, video games, drugs, gambling, etc. And sometimes parents will need to be the fall guy, need to be the hard “no” that kids need to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
Section 10 talks about aggression and violence. This is a subject worth devoting entire books to (and many good books out there have), but author Cara Natterson does a good job of covering some interesting highlights of what is often, unfortunately, a boy-centered issue.
Section 11 reads more like an appendix, listing answers to some of the main questions that pop up for boys during puberty—for example, how to decrease acne, grow taller, manage hair growth, manage moodiness, etc.
I know this is the longest review ever, but, wow, what a fantastic book and resource! I learned a lot about my son and actually feel better equipped to successfully navigate the next few years with him. Wish me luck!
Big thank you to Ballantine Books for the ARC!