Puberty can be a difficult and emotional process for young girls, but understanding the stages may help them get through the experience. A British physician named James Tanner came up with five distinctive stages of puberty, known as the Tanner Scale or Tanner Stages to help doctors and parents recognize which part of the process children are going through.
The first stage of puberty has no visible signs for most girls. The work is done internally as hormones are produced and the ovaries begin to grow. During this first stage of puberty, a region of the forebrain, the hypothalamus, begins releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH then travles to the pituitary gland, which releases two hormones specificcally related to puberty - follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). According to KidsHealth, this stage of puberty starts as early as eight years old for girls. However, WebMD states that the average age is 12. A lot of different factors come into play as to when your daughter will start puberty. Medical experts disagree about the exact reasons, but point to reasons such as:
- Body fat ratios
During the second stage of puberty, girls will often see the first visible sign of puberty. According to About Kids Health, this stage can occur between 8 and 13 years old. Again, this age will vary depending on a wide variety of factors. However, you can recognize this stage with the following outward signs according to the National Health Service (NHS):
- Breast buds will form first, followed by an increase in the size of the areola. Some girls will experience significant breast growth during this stage, but for most, it will hold off for another year or two.
- Growth of pubic hair on the outside edges of the vagina
- Weight or fat gain (wider hips)
- An average growth spurt of 2 to 2.4 inches per year
- Nipples swelling
- More emotional
During the third stage of puberty, girls continue to grow and develop. The NHS states that the third stage of puberty typically occurs after the age of 12, but About Kids Health states that it can occur anytime between 9 and 14. The events that happen in Tanner Stage Three, include:
- Breast growth continues outside the areola area
- Pubic hair spreads across the front of the pubic area
- Hair forms under arms
- Acne begins
- Growth rate of 3.2 inches per year, the highest growth rate during puberty (NHS)
Sometime between the third and fourth stage of puberty, a girl begins her period, also called menstruation. For the average girl, this happens around age 12. However, periods are often irregular at first. During her period, a girl can expect vaginal bleeding for around a week every month due to an egg being released and the uterus shedding unused tissue. Girls may experience headaches, cramps, mood swings and other unpleasant symptoms during their periods. This stage is typically reached between 10 and 15 (About Kids Health). Other signs of stage four include:
- Additional spread of pubic and underarm hair; hair grows coarser/curlier
- Growth spurt slows down considerably with an average of 2.8 inches a year (NHS)
- A secondary mound is formed by the areola on top of the breast (this will disappear later)
The final stage of puberty marks a girl's graduation into womanhood. Her height and breast size have likely reached their permanent state, and she can focus on becoming comfortable and confident in her new body. Most girls hit this stage of puberty between ages 15 and 18 and growth in height typically stops around age 16. Some other signs that you've entered the final stage of puberty:
- Periods are monthly and predictable
- Pubic hair spreads to the top of the inner thighs
- Areola swelling disappears and breasts look like adult-shaped breasts
Is This Normal?
Keep in mind that the stages above are estimates. Every girl is unique and may go through the stages a bit faster, slower or at a younger or older age. However, there are a few things to consult your physician about if they occur:
- Premature puberty - child begins to show signs of puberty before 8 or 9 years of age.
- Delayed puberty - no development by age 14 or a delay of five years or more between the initial signs of budding and further development
A young girl going through puberty must deal with physical and hormonal changes to her body. On top of that, she now has to deal with acne, body odor and eventually menstruation. A little education about the stages she's going through and a bit of understanding from a caring parent or care giver can go a long way toward helping her through this difficult but exciting time in her life.