Puberty is a time of life most of us just want to forget. While it’s a critical time in our physical and mental development, it’s rare that anyone looks back and says “Yep, I’d do that again.” And just when we (may have) recovered from this most cringe-inducing time of life, we realize that our children are about to hit that same stage.
New Canaan Pediatrics is here to help both you and your child get through puberty as painlessly and positively as possible. With open communication and a good grasp of puberty science, both you and your child can make it through!
Please note that the information in this article applies to children who identify as their birth gender, and New Canaan providers respect and understand that children may experience gender in different ways.
The Medical Facts of Puberty
For both boys and girls, puberty involves the appearance of hair around the genitals and under the arms, swift increases in height, and typically, acne development. These signs, however, are where similarities in puberty by gender stop and the transition into physical adulthood begins to look different.
As with all development milestones, each child will go through puberty in their own time. However, there are average ages when parents can expect to see signs of puberty.
Boys will usually begin puberty between the ages of 9 and 14 years old. The first stages of puberty will begin with the testicles and scrotum growing in size, hair appearing around the genitals and under the arms, as well as a probable growth spurt. The first time parents realize that their son is suddenly 5 inches taller than he was a few months ago, they can expect additional changes to follow:
- Increase in sweating, leading to body odor
- Vocal changes
- More muscle mass
- Ejaculation at night, also referred to as “wet dreams”
The physical changes of puberty in boys typically end around the age of 17 when boys complete growing.
Girls typically begin puberty between the ages of 8 and 13. The first signs of puberty for girls includes breast development, the appearance of light pubic hair, and an increase in height. These changes continue until girls are approximately 16 years old when their bodies have finished growing.
Menstruation is usually the “pinpoint moment” for girls, and is considered to be when they “reach puberty.” Menstruation can be expected to start around 12.5 years of age, but may vary widely depending upon family history, nutrition, weight and athletic activity. Prior to her first period, it’s important to explain what this bleeding means biologically and what symptoms she may experience. Ensure that girls have access to the feminine products she needs before she gets her first period so she is confident about taking care of herself, even if a parent is not immediately available.
When is Puberty a Problem?
Although puberty happens a little differently for everyone, there are problems that could cause long term issues for your child if not promptly diagnosed and treated. These could be caused by
- Glandular problems
- Excessive exposure to hormones
Call New Canaan and make an appointment if your child has:
- Signs of puberty before age 8, indicating precocious puberty
- Not started puberty at approximately the same age their parents did
Advice for Parents
Puberty is a time when your child’s brain is developing at warp speed to try to catch up to the changes that are happening to them physically. Your child will try to be more independent and will be more concerned about peer acceptance. They will also begin to think more abstractly and about the future, and begin to form romantic and sexual relationships. Parents should work to quickly reframe their thinking about their child and develop approaches to provide support in this exciting time.
When you suspect that puberty is about to begin for your child, start open and honest conversations with them around the topic. Let them know that their body and brain are about to go through changes that may leave them feeling out of control or confused or even angry for reasons that they might not be able to identify. Let them know that they can come to you with questions, you will answer them honestly, and there is no reason to be embarrassed. Explain that puberty is normal – and perhaps share a memory of your own experiences.
Communication is key at this time, but remember that it should take place on your child’s terms. Never tease your child about physical changes that you observe, such as developing breasts or voice changes. If your child is embarrassed or resentful of changes they are experiencing, try to find ways to ease them into accepting these changes. If your daughter’s breasts are developing, ask her if she wants to go bra shopping, or suggest wearing camisoles with built-in support underneath her clothing until she is emotionally ready to wear a bra.
Because this is a time when the need to be accepted by peers is at its peak, adolescents who develop early or late may feel very left out and abnormal. Remind your child that everyone develops in different ways at different times, but eventually everyone “catches up” – and they will too.
If you’re dealing with mood swings, take a moment to remember how you felt while going through puberty. Remind yourself that your child is having overwhelming and extraordinary difficulty in controlling their impulses; their brain development is woefully behind their physical development in these years. Try to provide what your child needs most during this time – grace, understanding, and love.
When you have questions about your adolescent’s physical and emotional changes, the providers at New Canaan are here to help. Just call 203-972-4250 or click here to schedule an appointment.