'Boys aren't always given space to express themselves': Dr Ranj on his new book about puberty

Published on: 17 February 2021

We speak to Dr Ranj about why he wanted to write a book about puberty for boys, his own experiences of growing up, and his top tips for getting through lockdown...

Dr Ranj and the front cover of his book How to Grow Up

You're described as 'the nation's favourite doctor' - did you want to be a doctor when you were a kid?
The first thing I can remember is wanting to be an astronaut. No idea why... I guess it just seemed like a cool job! And then I wanted to be a teacher, though I soon changed my mind when I saw how hard teachers have to work...

What's the best thing about being a doctor?
Can I pick two things? I love it for two different reasons: first, I've always been interested in science and working out what makes things tick. Secondly, I've always loved helping people out. Being a doctor helps satisfy both parts of my personality, so I'm really lucky to have a job I find so fulfilling.

It took a while for me to even consider medicine as a career, though - I never thought of it because I didn't know any doctors when I was growing up. It was only when someone encouraged me to aim high and do my best that I actually thought, 'Hang on, this might just be possible!'

That's been my motto since: give it a go, give it your best shot, and see what happens! It's helped me throughout my medical, TV and writing careers to date.

Your new book How to Grow Up and Feel Amazing!: The No-Worries Guide for Boys is a really helpful and honest guide to puberty for boys. What made you want to write it?
Puberty is something we all go through, so you'd think we'd all have it sussed out, but it is still a really confusing time. Your body is changing rapidly, your mind is doing weird things, and in the meantime the world around you is throwing things at you every day.

I wanted to take what I had learned from my own growing up experience, as well as from being a doctor who looks after children and young people, and pour it all into this book.

Plus, I realised that there is so much out there in terms of help for girls during this time (quite rightly!), but less for boys in the same area. And what was there was a bit out of date. So, I wrote something to address that need, but also made sure it was relevant for right now.

A boy reading a book

Illustration: Emily Rowland

What are your memories of puberty?
My main memory is how self-conscious I felt – I was small for my age for quite a long time, and I hated getting changed for PE or going topless at the beach.

Everyone has their own challenges growing up - in the book I talk about some of mine, like my mental health challenges, how I discovered and accepted my sexuality, the ups and downs of my relationships with my brothers, my struggles with my weight, and also how I got better at studying to achieve my dream of becoming a doctor.

Authenticity was really important to me in writing the book, so there's nothing in it that I haven't either gone through myself or dealt with in my professional career. I want the reader to feel like they can trust me and the information I'm giving them.

I've been there. I've seen it or felt it. I've come through it, and so will you!

What are some top tips for parents of a boy going through puberty?
It sounds obvious, but make sure your son knows he can talk to you about anything, and that you won't bite his head off or say he just needs to toughen up.

Boys aren't always given the space, time or permission to express their feelings. When we don't learn how to do that when we're growing up, we carry those issues with us into adulthood, where they can have a massive impact on our lives.

Giving young boys the framework and courage to have those conversations is such a powerful thing for parents to do, and it's something I've emphasised throughout the book too.

I've also included a list of supportive websites and resources at the end of the book which I hope will be helpful for readers, but should be really useful for parents too if their son does come to them for help and they'd like a bit more information themselves.

A boy sitting by a window looking sad

Illustration: Emily Rowland

If you could tell your 11-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
The same advice that I tell myself and others to this day: dream big because anything is possible, work hard because nothing amazing comes without you putting the effort in, and be kind because no-one can do everything by themselves and kindness makes the world a better place for everyone!

Do you have any tips for families about staying healthy and coping during lockdown?
Mental health and wellbeing is probably the most important thing to talk to children about right now. Especially given the events of the last year or so.

We all understand the importance of physical health. Now we're starting to realise that mental health is just as vital.

We know that physical exercise is good for the health of our bodies. But what do we do to exercise and optimise our minds? All of us know what to do when we fall and hurt ourselves physically. But how many know what to do or how to seek help when that happens to them mentally?

So this is a message that I've woven throughout the book: if you are struggling, don't be scared to speak to someone you can trust. That could be a parent, friend, sibling, member of your school staff or a health professional.

Finally, what were your favourite books as a child? And do you have any favourite children's books now?
I was a massive fan of Fungus the Bogeyman books. I loved the humour and the artwork was just so imaginative and interesting. Also, the Asterix comics were a big hit with me. Nothing better than curling up in a comfy chair with a snack and a story!

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