Understanding how to recognize the signs of puberty can help teens and their parents identify these physical life changes and be aware of when problems may exist.
Puberty is a series of physical, chemical, and hormonal changes that signify the onset of adulthood and sexual maturation. Everyone goes through puberty slightly differently, but in general girls begin puberty between the ages of 9 and 14, while boys begin puberty later, between the ages of 10 and 17. For girls, puberty can last from 4 to 5 years until they are physically adults, and for boys puberty may last from 6 to 7 years before maturation is complete. Each gender experiences some of the same signs of puberty, though there are many factors that affect each individual's progress through puberty.
Factors Affecting Puberty
Different people mature at different rates, and some people start puberty earlier than others. One of the biggest factors affecting the onset of puberty is genetics - if a teen's parents began puberty early, it is likely that the teen will experience sexual maturity at a younger age. Other factors can affect puberty, however, including:
- Nutrition: The body must be well nourished for puberty to begin and proceed normally. Malnourished children or those with poor diets and fewer healthy foods may start puberty later.
- Exercise: While some exercise is vital for growing bodies, too much can burn off excess weight, calories, and nutrients needed for puberty, therefore delaying sexual maturity.
- Illness: Teens with chronic illnesses may suffer from chemical and hormonal imbalances that can affect when puberty begins and how quickly it progresses.
- Stress: Extreme stress can delay puberty by causing hormonal fluctuations that send conflicting signals to the body.
These environmental factors affecting puberty are more likely to impact young women. Their bodies must prepare to nourish and sustain a fetus after sexual maturation, and if environmental conditions make that too difficult, puberty can be delayed.
Physical Signs of Puberty
Both genders experience some similar indications of puberty, but the most noticeable changes are often associated with sexual characteristics. These physical changes may be dramatic in some individuals and barely noticeable in others, though if any changes are sudden and severe, they may not be associated with puberty but could indicate a more severe condition requiring medical attention.
Signs of boy puberty include:
- Testicle Growth: Testicles enlarge and grow more pendulous early in puberty.
- Body and Facial Hair: Pubic and underarm hair is the first to appear, followed by chest and abdominal hair. A few hairs can indicate the onset of puberty, and hair will gradually thicken, darken, and spread for several years.
- Growth Spurt: The hands and feet are the first to grow, often resulting in clumsiness. The arms and legs then lengthen, and the trunk is the last to grow to adult proportions as the shoulders broaden and chest deepens.
- Weight Gain: Young men develop heavier bones and denser muscles during puberty, resulting in significant weight gain.
- Body Odor and Acne: As hormone levels increase and sweat glands change, body odor becomes more noticeable and bouts of acne may appear.
- Voice Change: The growth of the larynx results in a young man's voice dropping approximately one octave during puberty.
- Breast Growth: Young men may experience some minimal swelling of the breasts during puberty as hormone levels increase and muscular density changes.
Signs of girl puberty include:
- Breast Growth: A young girl develops breast buds growing from the nipple outwards early in puberty. Nipples will enlarge and darken, and the breasts continue to grow throughout puberty.
- Body and Facial Hair: Pubic hair is the first to appear, followed by underarm hair and darker leg hair. Some girls will also develop slightly darker or coarser facial hair, but not with the density young men develop.
- Vagina and Ovary Growth: This internal growth cannot be seen, but some regular abdominal cramping may occur and whitish secretions may occur before the onset of menstruation.
- Menstruation: A girl's first monthly period may only last a few days, and her cycle is generally irregular for the first two to three years of puberty.
- Body Shape Changes: A young woman's body becomes curvier during puberty as her hips widen to help enlarge the birth canal in preparation for sexual reproduction.
- Body Odor and Acne: As hormone levels change and sweat glands mature, body odor becomes more noticeable and acne may develop.
Emotional Signs of Puberty
The emotional indications of puberty can be more difficult to detect. As hormone levels fluctuate, teens may experience rapidly changing moods, and events that may not have caused an emotional reaction in the past may become more significant. Teens can also become concerned about the physical changes in their bodies, leading to stress, tension, and other emotional fluctuations.
Dealing with the Changes of Puberty
Whether or not teens experience puberty the way they'd wish, there are ways to deal with the signs of puberty to make the transition from child to adult an easier one.
- Eat a nutritious diet and take a regular multivitamin to ensure the body has all the necessary nutrients for optimal physical growth.
- Get plenty of sleep and moderate exercise to stay healthy.
- Experiment with different brands and styles of deodorants and antiperspirants to control body odor.
- Try different soaps, creams, and cleansers to control acne without drying out or damaging the skin.
- Young girls should learn how to choose supportive bras that suit their body shape, while young boys may want to investigate protective athletic supporters.
- Young girls can experiment with different types of feminine products to suit their lifestyle and menstruation needs.
Both young men and young women share some signs of puberty as well as physical changes unique to their gender, and being familiar with these signs and how to deal with them can make going through puberty an easier and more enjoyable experience..