Few parents relish the thought of their child going through puberty. Not only is it a reminder that their child is growing up, there are so many “this is going to stink” stereotypes. But it’s also an important time when our kids need us. So ready or not, it’s going to come. And why not make it as smooth and positive as possible?
The good news is it doesn’t happen overnight, so there’s always time to prepare or course correct. In this second post of my puberty and growth series, we’re focusing on timing and stages so everyone knows what to expect.
What is puberty?
Puberty is a time of sexual maturation that includes physiological, cognitive, and social changes. This post will focus on the timing of physiological changes. With the onset of puberty, hormones instruct the body to change, notably estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys. Girls develop breasts and eventually start their periods and boys voices deepen and they start looking more like a man than boy. There is also significant growth in height, muscle and fat.
This transition from kid to adult body is a complex process regulated by hormones, genes, nutrition, and the environment. We will touch on most of these factors in this series.
When will it start?
Although girls typically enter puberty around 10-11 and boys 11-12, you are likely to see an acceleration in growth a bit earlier. Although these age ranges are typical, there is a wide range for what considered normal — anywhere between 8 and 14.
Research shows that puberty is starting earlier than it used to in both boys and girls. While higher weights are thought to play a role, most notably in girls, it’s likely a combination of factors. Genes still are the biggest factor in puberty timing. According to one review, “From 50% to 80% of the variation in the timing of puberty has been found to be because of genetic differences between individuals.”
When puberty occurs before the age of 8 in girls and 9 in boys, that is considered precocious puberty, and it warrants a doctor’s attention. That’s because there could be an underlying problem and different treatments are available.
If you think your child is going through puberty early and want more information, go to Puberty Too Soon.
What are first signs?
Puberty in girls typically starts with the development of breast buds. Breasts may become tender and one may start developing before the other. Pubic hair may coincide with breast development or it can follow months later. You may also notice increased appetite and weight gain around the middle, something we will get into detail in the next post on growth.
Puberty in boys starts with less noticeable changes as testicles increases in size and the scrotum thins out. Pubic hair often shows up as well. One telltale sign is a noticeable increase in hunger and asking for food (for example, a child is hungry right after eating and your thinking “didn’t I just feed you?”).
How long will it last?
Puberty typically last 4- 6 years. Girls start puberty 1 to 2 years before boys and end sooner, typically about 4 years from start to finish. Boys start puberty later and end later, about 6 years after first signs.
In 1962 Dr. James M. Tanner developed sexual maturity ratings showing how children progress from stage 1 (prepubertal) to stage V (adult). You can see the chart here. For girls, peak growth typically starts after one year of puberty’s first signs. They usually get their periods about 2 years (13 years on average) after first signs, although this can vary.
Boys, on the other hand, start puberty later and reach peak growth in the later stages, in both muscle and height.
How Can I help my child?
You are already at the first step of helping your child: learning what is going on. Remember that genes play a key role in the way your child’s body will turn out. What parents can influence is the home environment and how they interact with their child.
Less talked about is the support parents provide to children before, during, and after their bodies change. According to Pediatric Housecall’s Dr. Robert R. Jarrett, conversations about this change should start earlier than most parents think.
What I’m trying to say is: It’s a big deal! And it deserves much more than a passing, off-the-cuff “You good with the bees and bird stuff?” “Yep.” “Good. Good, good… How ’bout them Mets.”… Parenting about puberty can begin at 5 or 6 in a nonchalant way if the opportunity arises but short and casual discussions about pubertal body changes they can anticipate should begin for sure by seven or eight.
After this series, I will offer resources to help you get those conversations going.
Where is your child in the stages of puberty?