Cracking voice. Widening shoulders. Shrinking clothes. Adams apple. Puberty marks one of the most awkward times in life. It’s a time of a million questions! Puberty happens when a child matures sexually. There will be physical changes in the body; starting at around ages 10 to 12 or younger for girls and ages 10 to 14 for boys. When children hit puberty, their bodies produce certain hormones which cause physical changes. It’s a challenging time for both children and their parents.
Whether you have a child entering puberty or you’re just curious about puberty, you may have many questions. Here are some of the most common questions we hear parents ask when they want to talk with their kids about puberty.
What Is Puberty?
Puberty is the time between childhood and adulthood when girls and boys mature physically and sexually. It is the period when a girl is becoming a woman and a boy is becoming a man. Puberty is marked by changes such as breast development and menstruation in girls and facial hair growth and ejaculation in boys.
Puberty is also the start of adolescence, which is a longer period of emotional change.
When Do We Talk About Puberty?
There’s no specific age to have “the talk” about puberty. In fact, it is a good idea to have many talks. Try to talk with your child before any signs of puberty develop so that they don’t come as surprises. If your child knows what to expect ahead of time, the changes that come with puberty will be easier to deal with.
Some parents wait until their child asks questions. If your child is shy, or doesn’t ask questions, you may have to take the lead. And if changes happen before you get to talk, your child may become confused or frightened.
When Does Puberty Happen?
Puberty happens to everybody, but it doesn’t happen to everybody at the same time. Generally, girls start puberty earlier than boys. The bodies of some girls begin changing at age eight. Others don’t start changing until they are 14. Boys’ bodies start changing between ages 10 and 12. Most often these changes are complete before a person is 16, but puberty can go on throughout the teens.
What are the Changes Expected During Puberty?
In many ways, puberty is similar for girls and boys. During puberty, both will:
- Grow taller quickly.
- Develop pubic hair and underarm and body hair.
- Notice more body odor probably get pimples on their faces, backs, chests, or buttocks because of changes in sweat and oil glands.
- See their body shapes change — wider hips for girls and broader shoulders for boys.
- Find that their voices become deeper — this usually happens much more suddenly for boys.
- Become more sexual.
Girls and boys often worry about being normal as they go through puberty. Some children begin puberty months or years earlier than their friends and classmates. Others begin much later. We should reassure our children that even if they go through puberty at a different time or a different rate than their friends, it’s perfectly normal.
As girls and boys go through puberty, they also begin to go through big changes in their thoughts and feelings. Their emotional changes will continue through adolescence until they reach adulthood. During this time, peers become more and more important in our children’s lives. They may spend lots of time trying to be like their friends and classmates.
Hormones cause the physical changes we call puberty. They also affect children’s feelings. Hormone shifts may give children strong emotional highs and lows. We can help our children deal with their shifting moods by being patient and by validating their feelings. Remember that their feelings are real and may be confusing or overwhelming to them. Good family communication can help girls and boys deal with all of their changes more easily.
At some point, most girls and boys begin masturbating as they explore their changing bodies. Children usually begin masturbating long before puberty, but it becomes much more sexual during adolescence.
In early puberty, girls and boys also become curious about the bodies of their peers — same-sex and other sex. It is common for them to look at each other’s sex organs. It is less common for them to touch each other’s sex organs, but this is normal, too. When children engage in this kind of normal touching, they usually do not do it frequently.
What Happens to Girls During Puberty?
Breast growth is usually the first sign of puberty for girls. Girls may develop breast “buds”, or swelling and soreness around the nipples. This usually happens between the ages of 8 and 13. Pubic hair may develop shortly before or, more usually, after. The fastest growth spurt happens when a girl is about 12.
Breasts will grow slowly over several years. One breast may be a little larger than the other. This is not unusual. Parents can reassure girls that their breasts may not be as different from one another when they are older.
Most girls begin menstruating between the ages of 10 and 16. The time of a girl’s first period is called “menarche.” A girl may notice cramps in the weeks or days before her first period. She may also notice that she has more vaginal discharge in the weeks before her period starts. Some girls don’t get any early signs.
As preparing for menarche, family members can teach girls how to use sanitary pads, tampons, or menstrual cups. Pads are usually easiest for girls to use at first, and it’s a good idea to get some pads and look at them together. Girls may have questions about:
- Which kind of pad to buy
- How to put a pad in their underwear
- How long to wear a pad before changing it
- How to throw out used pads
We can also help girls become more comfortable with their periods by helping them learn about the menstrual cycle.