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Puberty Issues

Topic Overview

Puberty begins with hormonal shifts that trigger the development of male and female sex characteristics. In general, puberty usually starts for girls between the ages of 9 and 11, and for most boys between the ages of 9½ and 13 years. The exact age at which puberty starts varies widely among individuals.

Having an adolescent often brings up parents' uncomfortable memories of going through puberty themselves. Fortunately, education and support for adolescents during this period of life are becoming increasingly common. But adolescents still need parental guidance about what to expect and assurance that everyone goes through similar changes during puberty. When a teen is given encouragement, puberty can be a creative and affirming time of life.

How you can help

Talk to your children before physical changes start to happen. Instead of overloading your child in one sitting, talk to your child over a period of a year or two about changes that are upcoming. Offer your child books about puberty that are geared toward teens, and set a time to talk about what your child learned.

Share some of your own teen experiences so that your child will know that Mom and Dad went through this time too.

Young adolescents may not be aware of developing body odor and the need for deodorants and more frequent bathing. They may develop pimples, whiteheads and blackheads, or acne and need instruction on how to care for their skin.

Teach teens about the changes that occur with puberty, such as the following:

  • Girls' hips become more rounded.
  • Girls' nipples grow first and then the breasts under them.
  • Girls and boys get fine pubic and underarm hair, and then the hair becomes coarser.
  • Boys' penises and testicles grow larger.
  • Boys sometimes have wet dreams.
  • Boys sometimes have temporary breast growth during puberty.
  • Menstruation is a sign that girls can become pregnant. Girls should be instructed on how to use pads or tampons. Explain that periods may not be regular at first but they typically last 4 to 6 days and occur every 21 to 45 days in the first 2 years.

Show compassion. Let your child know that you are there to help and will not tease or ridicule.

Adolescents are usually very aware of how their development compares to that of their friends. Any development that varies significantly from the norm can be a source of great anxiety along with social and emotional struggles.

The tables below highlight some of the advantages and disadvantages related to the timing of puberty.

When puberty starts early
  Girls who mature early: Boys who mature early:
Advantages of maturing early
  • Tend to be more popular and may have a more active social life.
  • May have an easier time coping with the stresses of adulthood. These girls have more social experiences.
  • Tend to be more popular and are often seen as leaders by other teens.
  • Often do well in sports because of their physical maturity.
  • May seem more attractive to girls because girls usually mature earlier than boys.
Disadvantages of maturing early
  • May be embarrassed about having periods, developing breasts, and growing taller sooner than their peers.
  • May have more emotional problems and a lower self-image.
  • May have problems dating if they aren't emotionally ready.
  • May have less time to adjust to puberty and may be expected to act like adults.
  • May feel pressure to grow up too soon and to take on duties that they may not be ready for.
  • May act more aggressive and antisocial.
  • May start sexual activity sooner.
  • May have problems dating if they aren't emotionally ready.
  • May not have enough time to enjoy being a teenager.

 

When puberty starts late
  Girls who mature late: Boys who mature late:
Advantages of maturing late
  • May enjoy relatively "safe" teenage years because they have more time to get emotionally ready for puberty.
  • May not be pressured to date too early or have sex.
  • May grow up with greater curiosity about how their body will change and may learn better ways to cope with those changes.
  • May be more focused on school and getting good grades than on dating.
Disadvantages of maturing late
  • May be anxious, wondering when their bodies will develop.
  • May be made fun of by other teens.
  • May stay "childlike" longer.
  • May find it harder to compete in sports, date, or take on leadership activities because of their delayed physical development.
  • May have a lower self-image and more negative body image.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Bordini B, Rosenfield RL (2011). Normal pubertal development, Part II: Clinical aspects of puberty. Pediatrics in Review, 32(7): 281–291.
  • Ozer EM, Irwin CE (2011). Psychological development. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph’s Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 271–272. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Last Revised February 28, 2012

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