How parents should handle their tween's body odor

How parents should handle their tween's body odor
image from Stuart Miles at

What’s that smell? Oh, that’s my kid’s body odor? Yuck. Guess his body changing with puberty and it’s time to have a discussion about hygiene and using deodorant.

That was the gist of a scene in this week’s Parenthood (one of my favorite TV shows). It echoed a recent conversation I had with a friend who is a school counselor. I asked her there was anything tween-specific that I should address on the blog, and I was taken aback when she said, “Tell them to use deodorant.” I was expecting her to say communication or bullying, but no. The first thing that came to her mind was “stop the smell.”

When parents talk with their children about puberty and the accompanying changes, there’s usually a lot of concern when it comes to discussing glands, but sweat glands can be overlooked. Hormones that come on strong at the onset of puberty cause the sweat glands to get to work, and tweens and teens sweat more than they did as little kids. The hormones also secrete different chemicals into the sweat that has a stronger smelling odor. When the sweat hits the bacteria on their bodies, even more odor occurs.

Anyone else have the urge to hold their nose now? Wish I could provide comforting over aromatherapy over the internet, but I’m afraid that’s not yet possible. So, we soldier on.

Though there is not specific age at which it happens, body odor at age 9 or 10 is not unusual now, particularly given that tweens are entering puberty earlier than previous generations did.

The exact age at which body odor becomes an issues varies by child, but it’s best to be aware and prepared before it happens.

Be proactive. The discussion about body odor can be a bit awkward, but this is info your tween needs, and you also don’t want your kid to be the one in the class, or in the house, who smells. Explain to them what you do to keep from being that individual.

When change is in the air, what’s a parent to do?

  • The nose knows. Pay attention and if you notice a scent emanating from your tween, take action. It seems that body odor can be an early sign of puberty, before more visually obvious clues appear. When you get a whiff, have a talk.
  • Talk to your tween about it. This doesn’t have to be “THE” talk, and it doesn’t have to be long, but an explanation of how his/her body is changing and the causes that lead to the effect of body odor can help. If regular bathing is an issue, explaining that bacteria on your body leads the odor may be enough of a gross out factor to eliminate any argument. Really, not even tweens like the fact that our bodies are big bacteria fests. And tell your tween what you do to avoid being the most odoriferous person in the room. Let them know that body odor is normal, and everyone deals with it. Remind them that we’re all thankful to live in a time where daily bathing and deodorant are available.
  • Bathe. Daily, if not more. A lot of time, this will solve the problem. Ensure that your tween bathes once a day, at least. In the Parenthood episode, the tween was only showering twice a week, and the dad had to explain why daily showers were now required. I loved the parents high fiving as he walked to the bathroom in his robe.  For kids who are highly active and/or playing sports, two showers a day may be needed. I know it isn’t comfortable, but explicitly discuss with your tween that a shower should includes thorough cleaning of the under arm and groin areas. You may be both squirmy. Take deep breaths, it will be okay.
  • Clean clothing. Ensure that your tween is wearing clean clothing, and not just tossing on yesterday’s socks. (It happens.) For athletic activities, consider the kind of clothing will wick the sweat away from the body, and cotton socks will do the same. Also, check your kiddos’ shoes. They can get awfully nasty.
  • Deodorant or Antiperspirant. Antiperspirants reduce sweating, which can cut or cut down on body odor. Deodorants just neutralize the odor. There are a myriad of brands with fun scents and packaging, so consider taking your tween to pick out a scent that he/she likes. Don’t be afraid to purchase two sticks, one for home and one for the gym locker or backpack. (You may want to make the latter a travel size.) It may be best to start with a deodorant, as antiperspirant can irritate skin. Try that to see how it goes, and upgrade if need be.

If you notice strong body odor coming from a child younger than nine, consider taking him or her to the doctor to see if your child is in early puberty. Although that’s rare, it can happen and an endocrinologist can help.

Wishing you sweet smelling tweens and teens!

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