Puberty is a defining moment in the life and marks the graduation of a child’s into the adolescence stage. Increased hormone productions induce rapid physical growth and emotional changes setting the tone for the adulthood. Though it sets the road to maturity, your child is not yet fully mature or able to handle the great changes inside and outside. It is incumbent open parents to help their children understand puberty and its effects without being disturbed.
What is Puberty?
Puberty refers to sexually maturating of a child. It is marked by natural changes in the body making it capable of sexual reproduction. With puberty, a child turns adolescent, and the body begins physical, psychological, and emotional preparation for adulthood impending a few years later.
With the onset of puberty, the brain signals ovaries in girls and testes in boys to produce and release sex hormones that transform the body. While it stimulates libido and accelerates physical growth, the brain, bones, breasts, sexual aspirations, and skin too undergo changes.
Until puberty, the difference between boys and girls lies only in the external sex organs. But after it, there is clear separation visible in both physical and psychological aspects.
Puberty is a normal stage in your body’s natural development. When it reaches a certain age, the gonadotropin-releasing hormone in the brain becomes more prominent. The pituitary gland releases the hormone to blood setting the stage for puberty. Together with luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone, it activates gonads or sexual glands.
In girls, these hormones arouse estrogen production in ovaries that mature eggs and prepares the body for pregnancy. In boys, the hormonal combination stimulates testosterone and sperm production.
Also, with rising hormonal levels in the body, the physical changes gather speed.
Timing of Puberty
- Boys: Around 10-11 years
- Girls: Around 11-14 years
However, puberty may start earlier or later depending on genetics, nutrition, physical development, social, and environmental factors. There is no definite time for starting of puberty, as it depends on brain and hormone levels and these are not visible.
Puberty unleashes a period of physical growth and development that lasts between 18 months and five years. Post-pubertal development in girls is fast paced and it takes about four years to attain reproductive maturity from the first visible puberty sign. In boys, it takes six years. Girls too have higher estradiol – a metabolic product of sex hormones – than boys. This promotes faster physical changes and growth of breasts.
Puberty in Girls: Physical Changes
- Breast development: Starts at the age of 10 to 11 years. It is normal to see one breast developing faster than the other.
- Height: Girls see a spurt in height and grow taller by 5 to 20 cm on an average. There may disproportionate limb development for a short period with some parts outpacing the other.
- Other physical changes: Growth continues till 16-17 years. Hip widens and body shape changes. Pubic hair grows and becomes thicker. Underarm hair grows.
- Menstrual: Menarche or the first menstrual date is the culmination of puberty-induced changes. It starts around 13 to 14 years on an average. The menstrual cycle remains irregular at first and then settles.
Puberty in Boys: Physical Changes
- Sexual growth: Penis growth picks up at the age of 11 to 13 years. Testes grow faster and pubic hairs appear.
- Physical growth: Height increases following puberty and continues up to 18-20 years. Boys become 10 to 30 cm taller. Growth becomes faster. Disproportionate growth of body parts is visible for some time.
- Body hair: Starts appearing around 13-15 years. Hairs become thick in due course and may continue to grow into the early 20s.
- Sperm production: Boys start to produce sperms around 13-14 years. Penis erections and ejaculations are common. It is also marked by the wet dream period.
- Voice changes: With larynx becoming larger, voice becomes coarse and has breaks.
Discussing Puberty With Your Child
It is not easy for a child to openly talk about changes, especially related to sexual organs and feelings. Similarly, parents feel uncomfortable to ask questions about sexual changes. However, it is in the best interest of both the child and her parents to discuss the pubertal development and consequent changes in an open and relaxed way. Children need help and guidance of parents to imbibe and adjust with changes while parents must know when their children attain adolescent and make them understand post-puberty developments.
As a parent, you must choose the right words and time to discuss with your child about puberty. She must be aware of it from her friends and schoolmates. First, try to know your child’s awareness about puberty and start your conversation based on that. Guide her with more information and materials to read.
When you feel that your child is comfortable to discuss the topic, prolong your discussion.This also provides you an opportunity to inculcate values about social and sexual behavior. Keep talks as confidential as possible.
Tips for Parents Help Children Cope with Puberty Changes
Adolescence is marked by physical as well as psychological changes. About 10 to 20 percent of teenagers experience emotional turbulence following puberty.
- Mothers should talk to daughters about different types of bras and help select the one perfect for them. They may suggest panty liners when daughters have whitish vaginal discharges.
- Help prepare your daughter for her first menstrual period. Tell her about sanitary pads and how to carry it discreetly in her school bag. Help her overcome the anxiety over embarrassment caused sudden arrival of menstruation. Buy an emergency kit if she has irregular periods.
- Menstrual period often accompanies with abdominal cramps and becomes painful for girls newly attaining puberty. As a parent, it is your responsibility to help her get adequate nutrition, medication, or therapeutic treatment.
Boys often feel uncomfortable due to uneven testes development. However, many of them feel ashamed to discuss it and suffer psychologically. Parents must look for cues to convey him that this is normal and even shape will return after a while. They too feel uncomfortable due to unexpected erections and ejaculations. Sore breasts are another common embarrassment. As a parent, you are the only one to rescue your child from this quagmire.
- Assuage the feelings of your child about changes following puberty. Make her understand that it happens in everyone’s life and there is nothing to feel apprehensive about it.
- New physical and emotional changes induce behavioral changes making your task a bit difficult. You need to adopt a more benevolent approach that assuages their emotional feelings.
- Tell your child about the new phase of life following puberty and prepare your child to control massive hormonal changes inside the body. Don’t tell her about what is right or wrong. Just convey your expectations, experiences, and empower her to identify what is good and what is not good.
- It is common for children to compare their physical shape with that of friends once they attain puberty. Help your child to keep away embarrassment and overcome self-consciousness. Convey her that she has no physical deformity and you are fine with what she is.
- With sexual arousal setting in, teens often long for privacy. Allow your child to have privacy and ample scope for self-discovery of sexuality. However, ensure she does not indulge in unhealthy sexual discovery or permit others to exploit her.
Ravneet also blogs at www.wellnessguide.com