Like most people, you probably have a vague idea of puberty. What you’ve seen or heard on TV, movies, or the internet is most likely the source of your information. If you’re an adult or a parent, you may also have hazy memories of your own experiences at the cusp of adulthood. However, you probably don’t remember it as well as you think.
The Puberty Stereotype Versus Actual Puberty
You may think of puberty as that transitional time during adolescence that comes complete with zits, moodiness, and awkward social experiences. The walking symbol of puberty is the gawky teenager with braces roaming the halls of their high school, hoping the school bully leaves them alone that day.
Of course, this is not a complete picture at all.
An accurate puberty definition is far more straightforward. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it’s “the condition of being or the period of becoming first capable of reproducing sexually…” It involves things like sex hormones, the reproductive organs, body hair, body shape, fat distribution, and the first menstruation in females. And, it can be uncomfortable, growing pains are common, as well as emotional outbursts.
To demystify puberty, you need to understand how these “growing pains” work for both male and female bodies.
How a Girl’s Body Changes During Puberty
For girls, puberty usually starts between 8 and 13 years of age, though there are exceptions. Some girls don’t start puberty until later, and there is nothing wrong with that in most cases.
The First Stages of Puberty
Many girls start growing breast tissue at the onset of puberty, usually around age 9 or 10. This first stage is followed by the appearance of pubic hair and underarm hair.
Body Changes: Size and Shape
As puberty continues, a girl will start getting taller and will gain weight. “Baby fat” around the stomach and waist can develop, but these fat deposits usually redistribute to the hips and breasts as this stage progresses. Having a frank discussion with girls this age about that fat and it’s job may help with body image. According to WebMD, most girls can expect the brunt of their growth spurt to happen about six months before they get their first period.
Along with a height increase, a girl’s hips will grow wider and rounder and her waist will get narrower.
Menstruation, or “getting your period,” usually happens about one to three years after a girl’s breasts start developing. Getting their first period signals that a girl’s ovaries and uterus are capable of the reproductive process.
This can be a scary or exciting time in a girl’s life. She may have heard her friends discussing periods at school, but it’s up to the parents to help their child through this important life milestone. The girl’s mom or a trusted female friend/mentor can show her how to use pads and tampons. And, explain how long the menstrual flow usually lasts, talk about hygiene and personal care.
It’s also an opportune time to explain why it happens and how a female can become pregnant. This is important even if the topic has already been addressed in school.
Once menstruation begins, girls can start experiencing the symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome).
It’s caused by hormones that surge right before the period. Along with mood swings, girls may experience bloating, trouble sleeping, anxiety, or food cravings. This is a very hard time for some girls. If a girl is in unrelenting or extreme pain during her period, you may want to talk to a doctor. There are some conditions, like endometriosis, that can be missed when girls just “learn to deal” with super painful periods.
How a Boy’s Body Changes During Puberty
Boys usually start developing later than girls. It can begin anywhere from ages 10 to 14 and will not end until they’re 15 or 16.
In general, like girls, boys will also see body changes and hair growth, but this is where the similarities end.
The First Sign of Puberty for Boys
For boys, the first sign they’re beginning puberty is when the testicles and scrotum enlarge in size. The skin of the scrotum will also darken and become dotted with hair follicles.
Next, pubic hair will start developing, and soon hair will also start growing on the face, underarms, arms, legs, and chest. Different boys develop hair in different places at different ages.
Physical Changes: Muscle Mass, Height, and Voice
As puberty continues, a boy will start their growth spurt. Unlike girls, however, boys will generally develop more muscle mass instead of fatty deposits.
Another major body change is the growth of the penis. It will grow in regard to both length and width during puberty and can reach adult size anywhere between the ages of 13 and 18.
During puberty, a boy’s voice will deepen. As it transitions, it may crack from time to time as it goes from high to low.
Testosterone and Acne
Acne is a common woe during this phase for lots of boys (and many girls). In general, adolescent and teen boys tend to get zits because of surges of hormones like testosterone. Not to mention the behavioral ups and downs associated with surging hormones.
Luckily, there are lots of over-the-counter treatments for hormonal acne to help control pimples and blackheads.
Puberty: An Emotional Time for Both Sexes
Puberty is a time of upheaval for both boys and girls. Along with all the physical changes, there are also emotional ones.
Many teens experience dysphoria, or a general dissatisfaction/unease with themselves while going through this phase. After all, their bodies become totally new to them, and they have to adjust.
Moodiness, anxiety, and restlessness are all common emotional states during this stage, and nothing to worry too much about. However, if your teen is displaying symptoms that concern you, please talk to their doctor. Depression in teens can be serious, even life-threatening and deep depression is not a normal side-effect of puberty. 20 percent of those going through puberty, girls twice as often, will experience clinical depression symptoms.
Everyone goes through puberty and almost all make it out to the other side – your son or daughter will, too.