As adults we tend to forget what puberty was like, when the changes started and what it felt like. Navigating through puberty can be very challenging, both for the children as well as the parents. But if we understand what to expect and when to expect certain changes we can help our children through it.
What is puberty?
Puberty is the process of physical changes that a child’s body will go through to mature into an adult body capable of sexual reproduction. This process is triggered by hormonal signals from the brain to the ovaries (in girls) and testes (in boys).
When will puberty start?
Puberty starts can start anytime between the age of 8 and 14 years. The average age of puberty for girls is around 11, while for boys the average age is 12. Everyone is different and every child will develop at their own rates. But one should look out for delayed puberty and seek medical advice if you are worried about pubertal problems. Delayed puberty is when a teen goes through pubertal changes later than the usual age. For girls, it means no breast development by age 13 or no menstrual periods by age 16. For boys, it means no enlargement of the testicles by age 14.
Puberty in girls
Puberty in girls starts at an average age of 11. The first sign of puberty in girls is usually that their breasts begin to develop. It’s perfectly normal for breast buds to be tender or for one breast to start to develop several months before the other one. The girls will notice that pubic hair also starts to grow, and some may notice more hair on their legs and arms. Over the next year or so the breasts will grow and become fuller, pubic hair becomes coarser and curlier and the underarm hair begins to grow. Around 2 years after the beginning of puberty girls will have their first menstrual cycle, or period. It is perfectly normal for young girls to start noticing a normal white vaginal discharge.
Going through puberty also means that the skin become oilier which could lead to acne, the girls will start picking up weight and will go through a growth spurt (growing 5 to 7 cm annually over the next year or two).
Puberty in boys
Puberty in boys start around the age of 12 years. The first signs of puberty in boys are that their testicles get bigger and the skin of the scrotum thins and become darker in colour. The size of the testes and scrotum can be expected to double. Pubic hair starts to appear at the base of the penis. After about a year the testes and penis will continue to grow with the pubic hair getting thicker and curlier. The boys will notice that the underarm hair starts to grow and that they start to sweat more. It is very common to temporarily breast swelling.
With puberty the boys may have “wet dreams” (involuntary ejaculation while sleeping). He might wake up with wet pajamas and wonder if he wet his bed. Explain to your son that this happens to all boys during puberty and that it will stop as he gets older. It is important to emphasize that a wet dream is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by. Some of the other changes to expect is that their voice “breaks” and gets permanently deeper, boys often develop acne and boys will also go through a growth spurt and become taller by an average of 7 to 8cms a year.
Mood changes during puberty
Mood changes during puberty can be very challenging for both the child and the parents. Your child has to deal with major physical and emotional changes. Often the physical changes (acne, weight gain, voice changes) can lead to poor self esteems and depression. If you are worried that you child might be struggling with depression het help asap and get in touch with a depression support group.
I am sure that we can all remember the ups and downs of puberty. It is crucial for our children to know that they can talk to you about the changes that they are going through, that they know that they have your love and support.
Transgender children experience intense dysphoria during puberty. All kids are a bit uncomfortable with the changes they experience, but trans kids absolutely hate it. In fact, they have a very high suicide risk during this period. Reach out to us, if that is the case for you or your teenage child.
Head of My Sexual Health Pretoria