The onset of puberty marks a major milestone in every boy’s stage of life and development. These changes are accompanied with their own set of physical and emotional challenges. And, parents often meet the challenges with their own fear and stress, which may add to a child’s worries during this sensitive period.
What is much needed at this point in time, though, is for parents to be mindful and not dismiss those feelings of adjustment because not only will that distance the child from you, but it is likely to lure him to rely on external sources of information (which may be misleading).
Puberty for boys can start anywhere between the age of 9 and 15, however, changes follow a set pattern. In addition to the emotional signs associated such as feeling frustrated, irritable, awkward, lonely, self-subconscious and more sensitive, there are three distinct signs that define puberty in Islamic guidance:
- Growth of coarse hair in the pubic area
- Wet dreams (i.e. ejaculation or emission of maniy or semen) with desire when awake or asleep
- In the absence of the two signs above, when boys reach the age of 15, according to Hijri or Lunar calendar
For many parents, especially so with boys, there is a natural hesitation when it comes to talking to their child about the changes leading into puberty. However, we need to remind ourselves (and also convey to them) that this is an essential phase of attaining maturity. Furthermore, elaborating and reassuring them that the bodily changes are merely part of the development process, should give our children the proper tools to move forward with confidence.
Leaning In through an Islamic Perspective
Essentially, the primary years are meant to establish a solid relationship with your child, as it helps build trust and foster communication. Similarly, helping our children understand the relationship with Allah and nurturing it through their early years, can also help them get through puberty and put their feelings into proper perspective.
If you are a parent whose child is yet to reach puberty, here are some pointers that may help in laying the ground for the changes that are coming.
- Utilize their childhood years, specifically between 7-9, and make them be aware of the obligations of worship, such as the five times daily prayers, learning the Quran, and begin practicing them.
- Teach your children to be mindful of using their senses in a God-pleasing manner. For instance, the hands are for helping others and our ownselves, not for hurting others or treating them unkindly. Likewise, the eyes are for praising Allah’s creations and not for looking at shameful things.
- Talk about relationships and loving them for the sake of Allah. It is important that we teach our children right from the beginning about the boundaries of relationships with friends, family, and especially the opposite gender.
- Teach them briefly about marriage. Our children are being bombarded with rampant acceptance and promotion of homosexuality in all kinds of media. It is important to counter this narrative with Islamic guidance in an age-appropriate manner.
- Find opportunities to discuss bodies in a natural manner. Making sure that you discuss the genital areas and about safeguarding them, too.
- Emphasize self-care and hygiene practices and how important it is to stay clean. Make them learn how to perform wudu correctly, also.
From an Islamic perspective, puberty is actually marked as the beginning of adulthood which makes it highly significant for a number of reasons. Having done your homework in their prime years will hopefully allow for a smoother transition into adulthood, for both the parents and the child.
Upon entering puberty, here are some necessary details that you should be discussing with your child:
1. Binding Obligations
Upon attaining puberty, the child is religiously bound to perform his obligatory rituals, including:
- Five times obligatory prayers
- Giving of Zakat on any zakatable amount of money that the child owns
- Qurbani or slaughtering in the way of Allah becomes mandatory for all who are above the age of puberty and qualify for paying Zakat
It is crucial for parents to ensure that their child is aware of their fara’id or obligations and make up for any that they have missed, as Qada.
Note: As much as certain obligations are bound, there are certain things that we need not overwhelm our children with. For instance, matters pertaining to fiqh or full comprehension of Islamic knowledge for acts which may not be relevant to our children at that stage, like Hajj (unless they are going for Hajj) or Zakat (unless they own Zakatable wealth).
2. Call for Accountability
As children reach the age of puberty, with the onset of certain obligations comes forth increased accountability and a greater sense of understanding. This is because, after puberty our actions and intentions begin to be recorded for the weightage of our deeds.
Narrated Abu Hurairah, May Allah be pleased with him, The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
"The first of man's deeds for which he will be called to account on the Day of Resurrection will be Salat. If it is found to be perfect, he will be safe and successful; but if it is incomplete, he will be unfortunate and a loser. If any shortcoming is found in the obligatory Salat, the Glorious and Exalted Rubb will command to see whether His slave has offered any voluntary Salat so that the obligatory Salat may be made up by it. Then the rest of his actions will be treated in the same manner."
3. Understanding of Lawful and Unlawful Concepts
With the coming of age, there are some additional roles and responsibilities which need to be learned and put into practice. And, these include details about:
- Modesty: The observance of awrah, which refers to the mandatory covering of the self in the observance of modesty. For boys/men this includes parts of the body from navel to knees.
- Relationships and Marriage: As the child draws nearer to the age of puberty, it is natural to develop feelings of affection for the opposite gender. Hence, parents need to be vigilant but also understand and discuss with their children how Islamic guidance refers to and warn about dealing with such feelings with adaab or in a respectful manner.
- Intimacy: This is also the time to also discuss what Islam says about intimacy and marriage. It is also a good idea to reinforce halal (permissible) and haram (formidable) relationships and which ones Islam considers to be our mahrams or those with whom marriage is forbidden.
4. Matters relating to puberty and cleanliness.
Islam puts a great deal of stress on cleanliness as narrated by our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him:
“Cleanliness is half of faith.”
This deems it essential to the implication of keeping ourselves clean after attaining puberty. And therefore, it is imperative to teach our children the etiquettes of puberty and the responsibilities that it brings forth alongside. For this purpose, parents need not wait and rely on external sources, but try and highlight the key issues pertaining to puberty and cleanliness directly to their children. These include:
- Taharah or purification of the self: This is absolutely imperative because without the proper method of purification, the prayers will not be valid as the body would still be in a state of impurity. Let your child know that under certain circumstances it becomes obligatory to perform the ghusl or bath.
This is typically after ejaculation or emission of maniy (semen) and can happen either when one is awake or when one is asleep. If it is emitted when one is awake and out of pleasure, then it becomes mandatory to do ghusl. If it was emitted without pleasure, then ghusl is not required as the secretion may be normal or due to sickness. Similarly, if it is emitted when one is asleep (wet dream) then it becomes mandatory to do ghusl, regardless of whether it happened due to pleasure or not as it can be difficult to ascertain.
It is also important to highlight the essential requirements for ghusl to be valid:
- Making of the intention is pivotable to distinguish between mere hygiene practice vs. purification from filth.
- Ensuring that the water flows freely and reaches all parts of the body, including the hair and scalp (for this it is advisable to comb through your hair with your fingers).
- Shaving of armpit and pubic hair: This is another important practice to educate your child about. Narrated Anas Ibn Malik, (may Allah be pleased with him):
"The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, fixed the time for us paring the mustache, trimming the fingernails, shaving the pubic hairs and plucking the underarm hairs - that we not leave it for more than forty days."
In conclusion, amidst all of these big changes it is important to remember to be lovingly involved in your child's journey into adulthood. Rather than speaking from an authoritative level, try to be understanding, sound reassuring and comforting and above all do not be afraid to address their concerns and worries. And again, it is also preferable to speak to your child directly rather than letting them be on their own to figure out things. Such matters are to be dealt with with great caution and detail, so it is always best to impart this knowledge to them first-hand.
For those parents who may feel uncomfortable bringing up these issues with their children, books offer a great gateway. Here are some recommended readings, which might help bridge the gap.
A Muslim Boy’s Guide to Life’s Big Changes by Sami Khan
Help Your Kids with Growing Up: A No-Nonsense Guide to Puberty and Adolescence by Robert Winston
Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys
Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and mother of three boys. Always on the quest to learn, she is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it on to others. A writer in the making, she draws inspiration through deep conversations, laws of nature, and her own children. She and her family are currently living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
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