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

Puberty is the time in life when your child’s body becomes sexually mature. Your child will experience many changes in his or her body during this time. 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 that takes place for several years. Most girls finish puberty by age 14. Most boys finish puberty by age 15 or 16.

Path to improved health

You can help your child go through puberty by talking positively to him or her about what changes mean and what to expect. Let your child know the changes are normal. Also, offer to help your child. Show your son or daughter how to correctly apply deodorant. Invite your daughter to go along when you buy her first bra or feminine hygiene products.

You’ll know your child has entered puberty when these things happen:

For girls

  • Her breasts begin to develop.
  • She gets hair in her armpits, on her legs, and on her pubic area.
  • She has her first menstrual period.
  • She may develop acne.

For boys

  • His testicles and penis increase in size.
  • He gets hair in his armpits, on his face, and on his pubic area.
  • He develops a small amount of breast tissue.
  • His voice deepens.
  • His muscles strengthen.
  • He may develop acne.

Signs of puberty often don’t happen at the same time. For example, some girls may develop breasts at a young age but have no other signs of puberty for a while. Some boys and girls grow armpit and pubic hair long before they show other signs of puberty. These pattern changes are common.

Watch for signs of puberty in your child. And ask your child to share with you when he or she notices new signs. Your child’s doctor can watch for these changes, too. As your child grows, it’s best to take him or her to the doctor once a year for a check-up. As your child gets older, the doctor can track your child’s puberty patterns. These appointments also give your child a chance to ask the doctor questions about the changes happening in his or her body.

Things to consider

Some boys and girls experience puberty much earlier or later than other children. Both early and late puberty can run in families.

Precocious puberty

This is puberty that happens early. In most cases, this is a variation of normal puberty. However, sometimes there’s a medical reason for it. Talk to your doctor if your daughter develops breast tissue and pubic hair before age 7 or 8, or if your son 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 foods) can cause it.

Signs of delayed puberty in girls include:

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

Signs of delayed puberty in boys include:

  • No testicle development by age 14.
  • Incomplete development of the testicles and penis 5 years after they first show signs of development.

Talk to your child’s doctor if you think your child has delayed puberty. The doctor will examine your child. He or she also may order some tests to help find out the reason for the delay. These tests may include:

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

Sometimes the cause can’t be found. When that happens, no treatment is needed. Sometimes, a cause is found. Those can usually be treated. For example, if your child doesn’t have right level of hormones, hormone medication may help.

Emotional changes

Many boys and girls will experience a wider range of emotions when they begin puberty. Sometimes it will feel like a “storm” of emotions, ranging from irritability to sadness. Your child may experience confidence issues for the first time in his or her life. Fortunately, emotions start to level out by the end of puberty. Most of the time, your child won’t have long-lasting issues with his or her emotions during puberty. However, if your child’s mood is more troubling than what you expect, or he or she seems depressed or has thoughts of hurting himself or others, contact your child’s doctor right away.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Will my child’s pattern of puberty follow mine?
  • How can I help my child deal with the changes happening in his or her body?
  • What are some ways I can talk to my child about puberty that won’t make me–or my child–feel awkward.
  • Do foods, activities, or environmental factors affect puberty?
  • Are anxiety and depression a part of puberty?