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.
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.