For Parents: What to Expect When Your Child Goes Through Puberty

Puberty is the time in life when a young person’s body become sexually mature. This involves many changes in his or her body. For girls, puberty usually starts around age 11. But it can start as early as age 6 or 7. For boys, puberty begins around age 12. It can start as early as age 9. Puberty is a process. It occurs for several years. Most girls finish puberty by age 14. Most boys finish puberty at age 15 or 16.

Path to improved well being

You can help your child go through the experience by talking positively about the changes:

  • Let your child know the changes are normal.
  • Offer to help your child along the way. This may include helping him or her learn to use deodorant or buying feminine hygiene products for girls.
  • Continue to talk with your child. If you need help or you think your child needs counseling, talk to your doctor.

Tracking the steps of puberty:

Girls

  • The first sign of puberty in most girls is breast development.
  • Hair begins to grow in the pubic area.
  • Hair begins to grow in the armpit and legs.
  • Acne can occur.
  • A girl begins her period.

Boys

  • The first sign of puberty in most boys is an increase in the size of the testicles and penis.
  • Hair begins to grow in the pubic area and armpit.
  • A small amount of breast tissue develops.
  • The voice deepens.
  • Muscles strengthen.
  • Acne can occur.
  • Facial hair appears.

Not all children follow the same pattern of sexual development. Some girls develop breasts at a very young age but have no other signs of sexual development. Some children have pubic and armpit hair long before they show other signs of sexual growth. These changes in pattern are common. However, it’s a good idea for your child to have a check-up with his or her doctor once a year as he or she grows. This gives your doctor a chance to track the changes. Also, it gives you and your child a chance to ask questions.

Things to consider

Most of the time, puberty follows the same age ranges. However, there is such a thing as precocious puberty (early onset) and delayed puberty.

Precocious puberty:

  • In most cases, early puberty is just a variation of normal puberty. In a few cases, there may be a medical reason for it.
  • Talk to a doctor when a young girl develops breasts and pubic hair before age 7 or 8.
  • Talk to a doctor if a young boy has an increase in testicle or penis size before age 9.

Delayed puberty: Sometimes, delayed puberty is caused by a medical reason. For example, malnutrition (not eating enough of the right kinds of food) can cause delayed puberty. Both early and late puberty can run in families.

Puberty may be late in girls who have the following signs:

  • No development of breast tissue by age 14.
  • No periods for 5 years or more after the first appearance of breast tissue.

Puberty may be late in boys who have the following signs:

  • No testicle development by age 14.
  • Development of the male organs isn’t complete 5 years after they first show signs of development.

Talk to your child’s doctor about possible causes for the change in puberty pattern. Your doctor may do a physical exam. He or she might suspect a cause for the puberty variation and order some tests, including:

  • Blood tests to check hormone levels.
  • An X-ray of the wrist to check bone growth.
  • A CT or MRI (imaging) of the head to look for a tumor or brain injury.
  • Chromosome (gene) studies.

Sometimes the cause can’t be found even after several tests. When no cause is found, no treatment is needed. In some children, a medical cause is found and treated. For example, if the reason for late puberty is lack of hormones, hormone medication can help.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Does a child’s pattern of puberty tend to follow his parents’?
  • Are there environmental factors, foods or activities that affect puberty?
  • Are anxiety and depression a part of puberty?