Puberty. It’s that time in a person’s life when, well, everything changes: their voice, body shape, hormones, moods, body hair and odor, it’s when some start menstruating, while others see their penis and testes grow. It is, for better or worse, something we all have to go through. As parents, however, when we start to see that our children are nearing that stage, we might want to ignore it rather than engage with it. Puberty was, for many of us at least, the toughest, most awkward phase of our lives. For that very reason, though, it’s essential that parents take on supportive (but not overbearing) roles in their children’s lives early on, providing information on what changes they will go through and what to do about them. Some of these changes your child may perceive as embarrassing, and it’s up to you to create teachable moments out of what can otherwise result in a rift in your relationship. By engaging with your child, you might learn something, too.
While everyone experiences puberty differently, there’s one thing that unites them all: body odor.
Why does body odor increase with puberty?
When we start going through puberty, our apocrine glands, responsible for the (smellier) sweat that results from emotional stress, are activated and go into overdrive. Puberty causes sweat to come from our armpits, groin area, chest, feet, and hands, and this sweat mixes with bacteria to produce body odor. So how should parents help their kids cope?
First, make sure they know that their body is responding to hormonal changes in a way that is 100% natural and healthy. Then, guide them with these tips to help them manage their new body odor:
1. Use antiperspirant or deodorant
With so many options on the market, the deodorant isle can be stressful, even for adults. Not every deodorant or antiperspirant will work for everyone. There’s also an important difference between deodorants and antiperspirants: While deodorants work to neutralize the odors of bacteria that mix with your sweat, antiperspirants work to prevent sweating altogether. Help your child begin the process of trial and error. Heavier sweaters may need to use clinical strength antiperspirants, at least for a time. Also be aware that they might need to change the deodorant or antiperspirant they use after a while, as bacteria can become resistant after six months or so.
2. Wash clothes regularly
More and stronger-smelling sweat means that it’s important for your child to wear clean clothes. Parents, this isn’t the time to skimp on your detergent. Turn to brands that are known for fighting odors and stains. If your child’s skin is very sensitive, you can opt for detergent alternatives instead. If you haven’t done so already, teach your child how to do their own laundry and how to determine if their clothes are clean or dirty (i.e. by giving them a whiff and checking for stains, especially in the armpit area). This helps them gain more independence and responsibility (not to mention the added benefit of helping you around the house).
3. Shower daily
Your child should be showering daily, washing every part of their body, drying off thoroughly, and hanging up their towel to dry. For those with vaginal odor, make sure your child understands that this is a natural response of their body, and something that they should monitor, rather that ignore or try to cover up. The vagina is self-cleaning, so DO NOT turn to douche or feminine sprays to address vaginal odor. Instead, washing the vulva area with mild soap and water should be enough. If the odor does not reduce after a few days, it might be a sign of infection, and the advice of a doctor should be sought.
4. Use medicated foot powder or antifungal foot spray
Smelly shoes and feet are usually manageable if your kid wears socks with their sneakers, switches their shoes every couple of days so that they have a chance to air out, and washes their feet when they get home from school. For many, however, this isn’t enough, and turning to a foot powder or antifungal foot spray may be a solution. If your child is still concerned about their foot odor, turn to their doctor, as they may be able to prescribe a medicated foot cream.