What Happens During Puberty

Young people, some time between the ages of 8 and 16, go through a predictable process of biological development called puberty.  Normal puberty changes may begin as early as age eight for girls and as early as nine for boys, but some teens may not begin these changes until they are 15 or 16.  The average age for puberty to begin for boys is between 11 and 12 years; for girls, it is between 10 and 11.  Still, “average” means that half of young people begin this process earlier, and half will begin it later.

This time of great physical, emotional, and social change for youth may occasionally be confusing and scary.  Advanced preparation for puberty is likely to result in a more positive view of the process.

Menstruation and first ejaculation are often seen as landmarks which signal "puberty has arrived."  In reality, puberty is a stage of life marked by a series of events - a process that unfolds over the course of several years.  Menstruation and first ejaculation actually occur fairly late in the process.  Yet for some reason, they're seen as "highlights" - perhaps because they're such obvious signs of growing up.

At any rate, helping your child understand the time frame of puberty can serve to alleviate classic fears like, "Why am I growing so much faster than my friends?" "How come my friends are growing and I'm not?" When will I get 'it'?" "What's wrong with me?" "Am I normal?"

Children who have had little explanation of developmental differences can become obsessed with these concerns—anxiously worrying. Surely you know what that's like from your own perils of puberty. Do you recall thinking years later, "If only someone had explained what was going on with me. I could have coped much better!" As a parent, you can be that "someone" for your own child.

Since we tend to assume that children know far more about their bodies than they actually do, a good rule is to explain everything … even that which seems most obvious. In this way, you're likely to cover many of the unspoken concerns and questions. By the age of 8 or 9, (which is still early in the puberty game for the majority of kids), one of the most useful pieces of information you can share with your child is a rundown of the puberty chain of events. While it's true that children will begin developing at different times, the sequence of events is fairly predictable. Learning about this is far more helpful to a youngster than merely having mom and dad say, "Don't worry, honey. You'll grow."

General order for girls: General order for boys:
• Breast budding (between ages 8 and 13, on average) • Growth of testes and scrotum (between ages 10 and 13 ½, on average)
• Hips broaden • Straight pubic hair
• Straight pubic hair • Early voice change
• Growth spurt • First ejaculation (about 1 year after testicular growth)
• Pubic hair becomes kinky • Pubic hair becomes kinky
• Menstruation (about 2 years after start of breast development) • Growth spurt
  • Underarm hair
  • Significant voice change
  • Beard develops
  • Underarm hair

Of course, puberty consists of more than just physical change. Emerging sexual feelings, emotions, relationships, stresses all are parts of the metamorphosis. Children often feel ambivalent about growing up, and need reassurance that such feelings are perfectly normal.

The journey through puberty will never be a piece of cake. But parents can do much to alleviate some of the strangeness and fear. One of the most useful ways is to communicate. Talk with your child now about these issues—even if you think it's a little early yet.

Chances are it's later than you think.

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