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Guy Stuff The Body Book for Boys, by Dr. Cara Natterson

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What inspired you to write Guy Stuff the Body Book for Boys?

When I was a pediatrician in full-time practice, the imbalance in resources between boys and girls was obvious. Girls have so many different options – books, videos, magazines – that focused on what was happening to their bodies as they grew up. Society as a whole helps them process all of it. Boys have almost nothing. Not to mention that I was raising a boy and a girl, which threw the contrast into even more focus. Once I left practice and started writing The Care and Keeping of You series for American Girl, I saw an amazing opportunity to level the playing field and to give boys a version of their own.

In terms of body basics, what are some tips moms can share with their boys for handling expectations, habits, and attitude?

I like to remind kids that most body basics have nothing to do with your gender. Take hygiene, like using soap in the shower, tooth brushing, flossing, and using deodorant: boys and girls have the same “rules.” Ditto nutrition, exercise, sleep… so many healthy living strategies apply to both girls and boys, both kids and adults.

But that said, there is (obviously) some boy-specific stuff. Parents can read Guy Stuff to get a better understanding of why the average boy appears to enter puberty later than the average girl, and what changes come in what order (spoiler alert: there’s no set order of body changes!). It also helps to learn about the effects of testosterone – that’s the hormone that governs the majority of boy pubertal changes. Understanding what testosterone does to both the body and the brain (yes, boys have mood swings, too) helps tremendously.

Let’s talk about nutrition. What are some must-haves for prepubescent boys?

They are the same as the must-have’s for girls! The best nutrition plan involves lots of whole foods (fruits, veggies, proteins and grains that aren’t heavily processed by machines) and water for hydration. Keeping sugar to a minimum makes everyone feel better. Knowing where sugar is hiding in your diet can be quite eye-opening. Portion size is also important. It’s not enough just to be mindful of what you are eating, but how much as well. And it often helps kids to know that all of the guidelines that apply to kids are equally relevant for adults.

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How much exercise and sleep do growing boys need? And what are some tips for getting them on track?

Exercising 60 minutes per day is what we all need at minimum, and lots of people get more than that. Exercise means that you are working hard at a physical activity, huffing and puffing a little bit (or a lot). You cannot casually whistle a tune while you are exercising. It helps to know that you don’t have to do the entire hour at once – you can break it up into smaller increments throughout the day or do one, long workout session. Sleep is as important as exercise… and some people say it’s even more important. A growing tween or teen body wants 9 – 10 hours of sleep per night, every night. An adult needs about 8 hours. Just because many of us don’t get the amount of sleep our bodies want/need, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to reach the goal. If you are able to get into bed a little earlier, studies show that you will be a little healthier.

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What’s your best kept secret for managing the ups and downs of raising boys between the ages of 9 and 14?

TALK. It seems so obvious, but between the typical tween boy urge to go quiet at times (thank you, testosterone) and electronic devices that make it easy for family members to not interact with one another, oftentimes talking goes by the wayside. Ask your son questions. Tell him stories about when you were his age. Point out billboards or shows or articles that have a message – good or bad – and start a dialogue. The things you say to your kids really do resonate. Even if they don't always seem to be listening, your kids do hear you and your words sink in. So take advantage of time when you can get it, and start conversations with your son.

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