What you should expect when puberty strikes

What happens in puberty: Group of young teenagers using digital tablet in kitchen

Ah, puberty. That thrilling time in a young man’s or young woman’s life when they’re constantly wondering, “What in the world is happening to my body?” and “Is this normal?”

While they may act like they don’t want to discuss all of the physical and emotional changes they’re experiencing, most kids really do want to know more about this process of sexual maturation. For some families talking about puberty can be a good time to bond and assure their child that everything is “normal,” while others may prefer to lean on a physician who can cover all the details during a child’s annual well check or other appointment.

Either way, it doesn’t hurt to review the basics, starting with aspects of puberty that affect boys and girls.

Changes Associated with Puberty

  • Varying duration: Puberty can start as early as age eight in girls and last until age 17 or 18 in boys. For most girls, however, it lasts from about age 10 to 14; for most boys, it lasts from about age 11 ½ to 15 or 16. This wide range of ages also means some kids will look more grown up, or younger, than their friends the same age.
  • Changes in voice: The larynx (voice box) grows in both boys and girls, but the results are more dramatic in boys.
  • Acne: Most kids experience some form of this hormone-drive skin problem.
  • Growth spurts: Wonder why kids can look so gangly during this period of bodily growth? The feet and hands grow first, then the limbs, then the body.
  • Mood swings: Kids going through puberty may isolate themselves a bit more, spend less time talking with their parents and experience mood swings in which they can love their parents one moment and think they know absolutely nothing the next. This behavior is pretty normal. If, however, your child feels sad most days for more than a few weeks, consult a doctor to make sure there are no other underlying concerns.

Changes Affecting Young Men

For young men, puberty typically brings about the following changes:

  • Enlargement of testicles: The testicles and scrotum grow and downy pubic hair appears at about age 11 ½; African Americans boys generally begin maturing a year earlier.
  • Hair growth: At about age 13 or 14, boys develop underarm hair (and body odor) and hair elsewhere on the body. Facial hair comes later.
  • Growth of penis: Around age 12 ½ to 13, a boy’s penis develops in size; changes in the voice usually happen about two years later.
  • Growth spurt: Boys’ growth spurts usually start around age 13 or 14.
  • Enlarged breasts: Around age 13 or 14, it’s common for boys’ breasts to enlarge, especially in overweight individuals. Although this hormone-driven situation freaks boys out, the issue usually resolves itself without intervention.

Changes Affecting Young Women

In general, young women mature earlier than young men. Some of the physical changes girls can expect include:

  • Breast “buds”: These lumps under the nipples can be painful and usually form around age 10 or 11; African American girls usually develop buds a year earlier. Girls’ hips also widen.
  • Hair growth: Pubic hair and underarm hair (and body odor) develop around age 12 to 13.
  • Growth spurt: Girls start growing taller about one year before they get their first periods. They can continue to grow between one and four years afterward.
  • Menstruation: About two years after breast buds appear, usually around 11 ½ to 12 years, a girl can expert her first menstrual period.

Also read: The (very) basics of puberty →

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