Puberty is an important period of biological changes that children go through as they move toward becoming adults. These changes typically occur earlier in girls than in boys. In addition to changes in their body and emotional changes, puberty includes maturation of their cognitive and moral development, and how they view themselves and others. It is important to talk with your children and prepare them for the changes that they are about to go through as they enter puberty and to begin to discuss sexuality education.
Puberty normally occurs in a series of five stages (Tanner stages) that typically begin within the ages of 8 and 13 for girls and 9 and 14 for boys. Puberty is consider early (precocious) if it occurs before the age of 8 years in girls and 9 years in boys. And puberty is considered late or delayed if it has not begun prior to the age of 13 years for girls and 14 years for boys. Recent studies have shown that puberty is occurring at an increasingly earlier age in children though.
The first sign of puberty in girls , which occurs at an average age of 10 1/2 years, is breast development (thelarche). This begins with breast budding, or the formation of small lumps or nodules under one or both nipples. These lumps may be tender and they may be different sizes at first. This is usually also the beginning of their growth spurt. Next, in about six months, pubic hair develops (adrenarche), although in some children, pubic hair is the first sign of puberty, and then axillary hair begins to grow. Over the next few years, breast size will continue to increase and there will be a progressive increase in development of pubic hair and the external genitalia, leading to the first period or menarche (occurring at an average age of 12 1/2 to 13 years), which usually occurs about two years after puberty begins and coincides with their peak in height velocity. Development continues and the whole process is completed in 3-4 years, eventually reaching adult breast and areolar size and an adult pattern of pubic hair. A child will have also reached her final adult height about two years after menarche.
Puberty generally begins later in boys, at an average age of 11 1/2 to 12 years. The first sign of puberty in boys is an increase in size of the testicles. This is followed a few months later by the growth of pubic hair. Puberty continues with an increase in size of the testicles and penis and continued growth of pubic and axillary hair. Boys undergo their peak growth spurt about 2-3 years later than girls. Also, this usually begins with an enlargement of the hands and feet and is later followed by growth in the arms, legs, trunk and chest. Other changes include a deepening of the voice, an increase in muscle mass, the ability to get erections and ejaculate (especially spontaneous nocturnal emissions or 'wet dreams'), and in some boys, breast development (gynecomastia). Development continues and the whole process is completed in 3-4 years, eventually reaching adult testicle and penis size and an adult pattern of pubic hair. This is followed by the development of chest and facial hair.
Puberty is also associated with adolescents beginning to have axillary perspiration and body odor, and acne.
Internet Resources about Puberty:
- bodymatters.com: "An online community (from tampax.com) for women offering comprehensive information about women's health issues, and resources to assist parents and teachers in discussing sensitive topics with children." Includes a Teaching Guide "designed to be a comprehensive reference for anyone involved in educating young people about puberty, menstruation, and the human reproduction system."
- iwannaknow.com: "The purpose of this site is to provide a safe, educational and fun place for teenagers to learn about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and their sexual health." Includes a section about puberty.
- Puberty: Information for Boys and Girls: a detailed public education brochure about puberty explaining the changes that will take place during puberty from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Includes sections on 'How will my body change?,' 'What happens during my period?,' 'Emotional changes during puberty', and 'Sex and growing up.'
- Your Changing Body - Puberty: Get help dealing with all the changes that puberty brings from about.com.
- It's a Girl Thing: from kotex.com, "a section of information about the change process called puberty. Here you'll find out exactly what it is and how most girls experience it. It's an exciting time, so check out the information."
- It's a Guy Thing: from kotex.com, "This is the on-line version of the It's a Guy Thing® puberty education booklet for boys. Just like girls, guys experience many changes on the road to adolescence. These changes may seem confusing and, at times, really strange. So if you are a guy, or the parent of an adolescent boy this is the section for you."