As your son or daughter approaches puberty (the beginnings of sexual development), you may begin expecting some physical signs. Are you aware that your pre-teen or teen will also experience emotional signs of puberty as well? You may notice that your child comes home from sports practice smelling rather “ripe.” Your daughter doesn’t look like a little girl any more – she is filling out. You may hear your son’s voice cracking on occasion as it begins to deepen. It’s a good idea to sit down with your child so you can discuss changes they are going to experience so they won’t be worried or scared by some of the signs.
What is Puberty
When your child’s body enters the first stage of puberty, their brain begins to deposit hormones that affect almost every part of their body, including the brain. One day, your little girl may be giggling at one moment, then sobbing in the next. Your son may come into the house in a great mood, then, just a few minutes later, he’ll snap at a seemingly innocent question. These reactions may alarm your children – you experienced them when you went through puberty, so let them know that emotional mood swings are part and parcel of maturation, according to It’s My Life. Describe their moods as a roller coaster and they will understand immediately. It’s a good idea to alert other family members that your child/their sibling may show unexpected mood swings, and to “roll with the flow,” if they can.
Along with those emotional signs, your child will experience unmistakable physical signs, such as breast growth, a deepening voice, growth and change in sex organs, and body hair. All of these signs indicate that your child is entering a stage of life making him or her ready for sexual activity, pregnancy and the ability to impregnate a young woman.
Your daughter may feel self-conscious about the changes in her body. She may feel that her developing hips and breasts mean she is “getting fat.” In most cases, this is wrong – a young woman’s body needs the additional fat to prepare her for eventual childbearing. She may also experience strong emotions – these are stronger than she has experienced before. If something upset her in the past, now that event will enrage her.
Signs of Puberty
You know what your child will be going through as they enter puberty:
º Deepening voice.
º Hair growth in the genital area and under his arms.
º Growth of primary and secondary sex organs.
º Body odor in both boys and girls.
º Growth of the breasts and hips in girls.
º Growth spurts in boys and girls.
A boy’s body begins to enter puberty as hormones travel to the testes or testicles. These hormones tell his body to start producing sperm and testosterone. When this happens, he is physically able to impregnate a young woman.
In a young girl, the hormones affect her ovaries, which begin the growth, maturation and release of eggs each month (menstruation). Her body also begins to produce estrogen, which signals her body to begin maturing into that of a young woman. All of these changes mean she is now physically capable of becoming pregnant, according to Kids Health.
In both boys and girls, their adrenal glands begin to produce hormones called “adrenal androgens.” It’s these hormones that trigger the growth of additional body hair.
Puberty in Girls
Puberty for girls starts as early as 8 years of age. Generally, most girls have entered puberty by 13 years of age, with the first sign being the development of their breasts. In some girls, the first sign of puberty may be the growth of pubic hair.
A year or two after these primary puberty changes, a girl will become noticeably taller and her body begins to become curvier. She develops hips and her thighs become more rounded. She will also develop growth in her hands, feet, legs and arms. Finally, she will experience her first menstrual period, called “menarche.” This may happen as early as 9 or as late as 16 – each age range is normal.
Puberty in Boys
Boys begin puberty as their testicles start to grow. Shortly after, they notice the growth of pubic hair and, in between the ages of 10 and 16, they experience several growth spurts. A boys puberty usually starts a year or two later than a girl’s puberty begins.
You’ll see his entire body changing – his shoulders widen, his feet and hands begin to grow faster and he begins to develop more muscle and put on weight. About 50 percent of boys develop nipple tenderness and swelling. While this may worry them, it usually disappears within a few months. You’ll also notice that his voice cracks as it begins to get deeper.
Stages of Puberty
In the U.K., doctors differentiate the puberty stages by assigning “Tanner stages” to each group of signs:
º Tanner Stage One is the pre-pubertal body before puberty begins. There are no obvious changes, according to the NHS.
º Tanner Stage Two begins when a girl develops breast buds. Her areola begins to swell and darken. She develops pubic hair along the labia or the entrance to her vagina. Inside her body, her uterus begins to grow, in response to the effects of estrogen. She will get taller by about 2.8 to 3.2 inches per year.
Boys begin to mature at about 12 years of age. Fine pubic hair starts to appear at the base of their penis and their scrotum begins to thin out, become a darker red and the testicles get larger.
º Tanner Stage Three in girls continues as the breast tissue underneath the areola grows and spreads out. By this time, she needs her first bra. Pubic hair becomes more coarse and she begins growing underarm hair. Her growth spurts increase so she grows about 3.2 inches annually.
In boys, the penis grows and lengthens. Testicles continue to grow. A boy’s pubic hair becomes coarser and more curly and begins to develop in the area above their genitals. At this stage, a boy may experience “wet dreams,” which are involuntary ejaculations during sleep. Their voice begins to deepen. Muscle size increases and they begin to grow about 2.8 to 3.2 inches a year.
º Tanner Stage Four in girls results in their breasts beginning to look more like an adult woman’s. Their pubic hair also begins to look like that of a grown woman’s. By this time, most girls have had their first period and these are beginning to become more regular. Their rate of growth begins to slow, as they grow about 2.8 inches per year.
In a boy, the testicles and penis continue to enlarge. Their pubic hair looks more like that of an adult man as well and they begin to develop underarm hair. Their voice changes are now permanent. Your son may begin developing acne.
º Tanner Stage Five begins at about age 14 for a girl. Her breasts look more like an adult woman’s and her pubic hair spreads to her inner thighs. Her genitalia should be completely developed by this stage and she has reached her full adult height.
A boy reaches this stage of puberty at about 15 years of age. His genitalia appear fully adult-like and his pubic hair also spreads to his inner thighs. His genitals should be fully developed as he reaches the end of this stage and he will experience a slowing in his physical growth – however, his muscles will keep growing. By 18, most teen males have reached full maturity.
Emotional Changes in Puberty
Puberty affects your child’s emotions as well as their body. Girls are self-conscious about their bodies, feeling that they can’t get too fat. Because they are developing wider hips and their breasts are growing, they may feel they are going to gain too much weight. Other girls may feel that their breasts are too small, wanting them to be much larger.
Puberty for boys means they can start shaving. Some may look forward to shaving, while others won’t want attention called to their new facial hair – like girls, boys may become embarrassed.
You may notice that your budding teen is having trouble sleeping – puberty has affected their usual sleep-wake cycle, according to Seven Counties. They become more alert later in the day, making it hard to fall asleep. The resulting lack of sleep makes them moodier and more irritable.
The brains of both boys and girls are still maturing physically – this process will not end until they enter their early 20s. While you may believe they should be acting more mature, the immaturity of their brains makes this physically impossible. Their thought processes are still simple, even though they are developing the ability to think more abstractly. Cause and effect may still be difficult for them to understand – which you’ll see in their impulsive, poorly thought-out decisions and actions.
You still need to be present for your teen as they experience all of these emotional and mental changes. Ensure that they get enough sleep every night and explain the consequences of their decisions and actions to them so they begin to develop more understanding.
Let’s Talk About Precocious Puberty
This means that some children enter puberty too early, with some girls developing breasts by the age of 8. Some girls will develop as early as 7, according to Baby Center. For some girls, this simply means they are developing earlier than other girls and her friends will soon catch up. If your child is on the high side of her growth chart and a little heavier, she may experience precocious puberty. Take your child to the doctor for assessment.
If she begins to show signs of puberty before the age of seven, definitely take her to the doctor for an exam.
The causes of early puberty may include:
º prenatal exposure to chemicals.
º Exposure to hormone disruptors.
º Benign growth in the hypothalamus or pituitary gland.
Your doctor will want to examine your child’s history and discuss when you and other family members began puberty. They may decide on further medical testing, which may include an X-ray of the wrist or hand or an MRI to spot lesions in the brain. Early puberty can be delayed with hormones, but this isn’t very common.
If a boy develops an increase in testicle or penis size before the age of 9, he should be seen by his doctor, according to Family Doctor.
All children showing signs of early puberty should undergo a full physical assessment, according to Patient.