Parenting Through Puberty

I know when my oldest let me know about the changes, I wasn’t ready.  I had prepared my child with what to expect, gotten her some nice books about it that we read together. But, when the time arrived, I thought, “already?”

The changes of puberty are different for every child, but there are some points that help know what’s ahead, just around the corner.

Physical Changes

 

For girls, the changes of puberty start between 8 and 13 years old.  Usually the first sign is breast development.  It commonly takes about two years to get from there to the first menses, or period.  Along the way, development of pubertal hair and a growth spurt usually ensue as well.  When girls start menses, it can be irregular in the first year, but it tends to become more regular with time.

For boys, the changes of puberty start between 9 and 14 years of age.  This starts with genitals enlarging, followed by pubertal hair.  Then they will develop increased muscle mass and voice changes, with the start of these averaging at 13 ½ years old. The peak height for boys is usually reached by 17 years old, 2 years past that for girls.

Both girls and boys will have other changes as well, including hair growth, acne, and body odor.  If you have questions or concerns about whether your child’s patterns are normal, it’s important to ask your healthcare provider.

Emotional Changes

 

Along with the physical changes, there are many emotional changes with puberty as well. Adolescent youth begin to become more independent and less interested in having the attention of their parents.  Some will lose their temper more easily and have more mood swings.  It’s important to keep the conversation open with these changes, both physical and emotional.  Being positively and proactively involved in your child life, even when it’s not invited, helps them know you support them when they need it.

Puberty is Starting Earlier

 

Despite the normal ranges of puberty described above, the onset of puberty has gotten earlier over the years. The cause is unclear, but we know several factors can lead to an earlier start.  Trends from lifestyle factors include an earlier start for girls with more sugar intake (independent of weight), also an earlier start for girls with obesity.  There are differences in the start of puberty with different racial background as well, with puberty often occurring earlier in African-American children.


Booklist

 

Some books that may help open the conversation with you and your child include “The Care and Keeping of You: A Body Book for Girls” by Valerie Lee Schafer and “Guy Stuff: the Body Book” by Dr. Cara Natterson.  These are appropriate for kids 8 years old and up according to Common Sense Media, a website with recommendations on books and movies for kids that are age appropriate.


Are My Child’s Changes Normal?

 

If your girl starts showing signs of puberty before 8 years old or your boy before 9, it’s worth bringing up with your provider to discuss further.  Similarly, if your girl has not started these changes by the time she reaches 13 or your boy by 14, that’s a good reason to discuss as well. Your annual well-child visits are a great opportunity for providers to evaluate these development milestones and make sure things are on track. Please make sure to keep up-to-date on these important visits.

Entering into the next stage can be an intimidating phase for parents and kids alike, but it’s all about being there for your child in an open and honest way.

By Dr. Deborah Wiser, Chief Medical Officer

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