The Talk - Body Odour and Hygiene


Teenage Skincare & Personal Care.

Is it time to have the talk about body odour and hygiene?

So you are the parent of a teenage boy. Not that long ago he was your happy confident little boy ready to take on the world. You monitored his hygiene habits and although he needed constant reminding, all was going well. In what seems like overnight he has changed. His skin has begun to breakout. His hair is becoming greasy and he is beginning to stink! Your baby boy is growing up and it is a difficult time both socially and emotionally. Time for some parent intervention, but how? Teenage boys are notoriously poor about their hygiene habits and he needs help.

I remember my first experience of realising it was time to have a talk to my son about hygiene. I picked him and a friend up from footy practice one particularly hot afternoon after school. By the time I had driven out of the parking area I could hardly take a breath and needed to open the windows for some fresh air. The air conditioning could not cope with the aroma of smelly socks, sweaty shirts and pits. It was the first time it really dawned on me that he was growing up.

Now, I would have liked to have believed that it was all really his friend, and my baby boy couldn’t smell like that - but one whiff of his sports bag confirmed he had been a part of that stench! It happens to everyone, one day you realise that change is needed and it’s time for the body odour and hygiene talk!

Teenage Hygiene

There are many responsibilities associated with parenthood. One of them is teaching your children about hygiene. Pre-teens and teenagers still need adult supervision, and most importantly they need honest constructive feedback and education. As parents you have to teach them to keep their body odor and hygiene under control, both for their sakes and yours!

In a previous blog we talked about the biology behind why body odor develops during puberty, but hygiene is more than eliminating body odor. Hygiene is essentially how we keep our bodies clean and healthy. Everyone expects that the people they are interacting with will be clean. However being clean also helps to keep us healthy. Eliminating germs altogether is not necessary or healthy but abiding by basic hygiene rules helps keep unwanted and contagious germs at bay.

So what does good teen hygiene look like and how do you talk about it?

This can be quite individual but generally there are a few basic rules that should be discussed with you pre-teen and teenager:

Showering

To keep body odour and the build-up of nasty germs away most teenagers should shower every day or even twice a day if they take part in very active sport. Although if they have very dry skin, every second day may be necessary as showering everyday using soap based products can be drying on the skin. However a top and tail will be necessary regardless to keep body odor away. You may assume they know but it may be worth mentioning that just standing under the shower won’t cut it! Many a parent has experienced having their child be in the shower for an excruciatingly long time only to find them as dirty and smelly as they were beforehand. Mentioning to concentrate on their underarms, feet and groin may seem obvious, but a subtle reminder at this stage wouldn’t go astray.

Hygiene in Puberty

When puberty hits, kids start to stink! Remember those Apocrine glands we talked about in a previous blog!  Deodorants that just mask the smell are not a viable solution for an adolescent. A deodorant for teen or pre-teen needs to have anti-bacterial properties. If they are unenthusiastic, remind them that they may not notice the smell, but everyone around them, including their classmates and friends will!

Some teens struggle with the concepts of their changing needs and refuse to shower or apply deodorant as often as they should. As a parent you need to first make the decision whether it is a problem for you or is it a problem for them. If your son looks dirty, smells bad or is not getting on at school this could be a signal that it is a problem. Remember though that sometimes the lack of hygiene is not the cause of the problem but can be the result of a deeper issue.

They're coping with changes in their body at a time when they already feel awkward and self-conscious. Unexplained mood swings, aggression, depression and low self-esteem are all difficult to handle in themselves but add them to the physical changes they are experiencing and puberty can be a really tough time for everyone!

Here are some ways to deal with a teen or pre-teen who won’t shower:

  1. Have a basic hygiene discussion with your son. I remember many a delicate discussion with my son happening while we were driving in the car. Psychologists have found that teenagers will often talk about delicate issues when in the car alone with you. The lack of eye contact with some of these conversations actually helps teens open up. Choosing the right time and place for this delicate conversation is paramount!
  1. Purchase personal care items geared for teens. Body wash, soaps and deodorant that are specifically formulated for teens that are left in the bathroom might just disappear quickly. Don't buy what you would buy for yourself. Better still, get your child involved with the purchase. No 14 year old boy wants to walk around smelling like lavender or vanilla body butter… We recommend our 2 in 1 Teenage Shampoo & Body Wash.
  1. If the problem is impacting on how your pre-teen or teenager is interacting with others and they just will not listen to you, it’s time to enlist the help of another discreet family member like an older sibling or a professional. Kids will often listen to another trusted adult.

Hair

The frequency of washing hair depends on the type of hair your teenager has. Most people do not need to wash their hair everyday but during puberty hair may be excessively oily and also prone to dandruff.

Remember:

  1. Be kind and empathetic. Let them know you understand how hard it can be to manage their hair now. Dandruff can be embarrassing, as can having your hair look oily all the time. 
  2. Talk to them about your own experiences. Sometimes just knowing someone else went through the same ordeal can help.
  3. Let them choose a product they like and can call their own. They are growing up and taking ownership of their own care is important. 

Clothes

It is important that teens and preteens wear fresh underwear, socks and other clothing daily because sweaty clothes help bacteria grow and cause odor. Adolescents with foot odor should use cotton socks to absorb moisture and avoid wearing shoes without socks. Adolescents should be encouraged to scrub carefully between the toes which is a great place for bacteria to breed. Once the bacteria are removed, be sure the feet are completely dry before putting on a clean pair of socks. Another tip is to use teenage deodorant on the bottom of dry feet.

Try to:

  1. Talk to your teenager about extra clothing or doing extra loads of washing if they need it.
  2. Buy spare sports clothing so they are able to change more regularly. We all know that that dirty stinky shirt is going to stay in the sports bag until they realise they need to wear it again!
  3. Encourage growing teens to take responsibility for their own things and hygiene, but occasionally ask them what you can do to help.

Skin

Getting your child into a regular skin care routine will set them up for lifelong good skin. Most teenagers get some form of acne, and there are many myths about what causes it. 

Most likely it is genes that determine whether someone gets acne or not. This could be due to the way skin reacts to hormonal changes which affect us all during puberty. 

Use an easy face wash applied with the fingers and rinsed off with warm water. Applied preferably twice a day, but at least once a day, use face wash that is applied in the shower for convenience. Use natural products that nourish and soothe the skin, something which meets the needs of a teenage boy’s skin, such as our 'Zit Free Teenage Face Wash'.

Oral Hygiene

Remember when your child begged for their toothbrush and had a tantrum if you wouldn’t let them put the toothpaste on. Haven’t things changed! Teens and pre-teens can get quite forgetful about their own oral hygiene. As we all know however, brushing and flossing are essential for future oral health. Remind them that it’s not only about tooth and gum disease, but bad breath!

A Final Word - Parent to Son:

It can be uncomfortable to start a conversation about body odour and hygiene, especially with an over sensitive teenager. However, having a direct and respectful talk now can also help with other issues they will face during puberty.

Remember:

  1. Never ever say anything in public or around their friends, this is private conversation! 
  2. Try not to nag, tease or turn it into a joke. Turn the conversation to one about increasing maturity and responsibility.
  3. Let them know that everyone goes through the same experience. Talk about your own journey through adolescence.
  4. Talk to them about the biology of what is happening. Knowledge is power and allows a teenager to feel like they have some control.
  5. Give them a say in how they want to manage their own hygiene choices. Specific products aimed at pre-teens and teens will be more readily accepted and used. 

A good conversation now will help grow that great relationship you already have with your son!

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