Unlike other lessons of childhood, teaching your tween how to shave her legs or get the whiskers off his face isn’t exactly one of those Hallmark moments. Yet helping your child navigate this right of passage can be bonding time for the two of you.
“Adolescents are going to figure out how to shave whether you help them or not,” explains Steven Matson, M.D., chief of the division of adolescent health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “If you can find a way to be supportive and celebrate your teen getting older, it really can be a way for you to connect.”
Approaching your tween or teen
Often the big question for parents when it comes to shaving is just, “When will your child need to start?” Matson says that it’s different for every child. Generally, for boys, the onset of puberty that leads to facial hair comes sometime around 11 or 12 years of age. For girls, puberty and physical development (along with leg hair) arrive earlier.
Matson says your eyes are likely the best guide as to when to broach the subject. If you see your son has stubble or that you daughter has long, noticeable hair on her legs, it’s time to go razor shopping.
Matson suggests that you make shopping for shaving supplies with your child something to look forward. “My dad never taught me how to shave,” says Matson. “I recall scrounging through his medicine cabinet to find supplies.” With his own son, who’s now grown, Matson sought to make shaving more of an event. “We went to the drugstore together to check out electronic shavers and razors.”
And don’t worry about the commonly held belief that once your tween starts shaving the hair will come in faster, darker and/or thicker: It’s simply not true, says Matson.
Just for boys: shaving faces
Once you do make that venture to the drugstore together, Matson says that choosing between electronic shavers and razors is the next question. “Personally, I think it’s easier for boys to use electronic shavers – and eventually they can learn how to use razors,” advises Matson, who also notes that electronic shavers have come a long way. “They’re not like when I was a teen.”
For electronic shavers, a boy’s face should be dry so that the hair is more brittle. While there are pre-shaving products that contain alcohol to help dry out the face, they’re not always necessary for the soft, fuzzy hair that first comes in.
There’s another reason electronic shavers might be the better choice: zits. For boys with acne, razors can lacerate pimples and lead to infection. Electronic shavers are a little easier to control.
But if razors are your preference, Matson suggests using shaving cream or other product aids to make the skin’s surface as smooth as possible. Shaving right after showering is one option (the warm water will make for softer skin), although some teens may choose to just shave in the shower.
The key is to first buy tweens the right products for shaving – and second to let them know that you’re open to their questions. “You don’t want them walking into the drugstore embarrassed and buying the wrong products,” Matson says.
Learning how to pull and stretch the skin for a better shave will come with practice and experience. Be prepared: Your son may knick the surface of the skin as he’s figuring out how to navigate the angles of his face.
Just for girls: shaving legs
Ready for a shaving party? Teaching your tween how to shave is best done with some firsthand experience. As with boys, the first step is to buy the right products, shaving cream and razors (although there are shaving creams available specifically marketed to women, I just swipe my husband’s).
As the mother of three girls, I’ve learned the hard way that for tweens, pricier razors are often better than inexpensive ones that require more practice to get a decent, close shave.
Once you have your products ready, moms can sit on the edge of the bathtub alongside their tweens and go through shaving legs together. Clean the surface of the leg first with soap and water before applying shaving gel. Gently glide the razor starting at the base of the ankle and going up to just below the knee. Let your daughter know that she should apply less pressure as she goes over knees and near ankles. By using shaving cream, she’ll know what areas she’s already gone over and what areas still need attention.
As with boys, getting a decent shave takes practice and experience. She won’t get it right the first time. Also, she’ll need some instruction on shaving her armpits. Explain to her that she’ll follow the same process as with her legs. Then go ahead and leave the bathroom, so that she can try this out on her own. You might also encourage her to shave her armpits in the shower, where it’s easier and more convenient.
Whether you’re a tween, teen, adult or somewhere in between, shaving is a chore. Yet for parents, taking time to explain how to shave can become a happy memory instead of an embarrassing experience. It’s all in how you approach it.
Illustration by Jillian Pulford
This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for 2016.