For Parents – What to Expect When Your Child Goes Through Puberty
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What is puberty?
Puberty is the time in life when a young person starts to become sexually mature.
Somewhere between the ages of about 8 and 16 puberty will usually begin. Puberty is a process that goes on for several years. By the time you are around 18 to 20 years old, puberty will be over.
What are the first signs of puberty in boys and girls?
The first sign of puberty in most girls is breast development. The first sign of puberty in most boys is an increase in the size of the testicles.
Does sexual development have a typical pattern?
Yes. In girls, breasts develop first. Then, hair starts growing in the pubic area. Next, hair starts growing in the armpits. In girls, acne usually starts around 13 years of age. Menstruation (the period) usually happens last.
In boys, the testicles and the penis get bigger first. Then hair grows in the pubic area and the armpits. A small amount of breast tissue might develop at this time. The voice becomes deeper. Muscles grow. Last, acne and facial hair show up.
Does sexual development always follow the same pattern?
No. Some children can have different patterns. Some girls develop breasts at a very young age but have no other signs of sexual development. A few children have pubic and armpit hair long before they show other signs of sexual growth. These changes in pattern usually don’t mean the child has a problem, but it’s a good idea to contact your healthcare provider to find out for sure.
What is early puberty? What causes it?
Early puberty is sometimes called precocious or premature puberty. In most cases, early puberty is just a variation of normal puberty. In a few cases, there may be a medical reason for early puberty.
You may want to contact your healthcare provider if a young girl develops breasts and pubic hair before 7 or 8 years of age.
You may want to contact your healthcare provider if a young boy has an increase in testicle or penis size before 9 years of age.
What is delayed puberty? What causes it?
Sometimes (but not always) a medical reason causes delayed puberty. For example, malnutrition (not eating enough of the right kinds of food) can cause delayed puberty.
Puberty may be late in girls who have the following signs:
- No development of breast tissue by age 15
- 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 by 5 years after they first start to develop.
Do early and late puberty run in families?
Both early and late puberty can run in families. There can be other causes, too.
How will my healthcare provider know what is causing the change in puberty pattern?
Your healthcare provider will talk to you and your child. Then your child will have a physical exam. The healthcare provider might suspect a cause for the puberty variation and order some tests. Sometimes the cause can’t be found even after several tests.
These are some tests your healthcare provider might order for your child:
- Blood tests to check hormone levels
- An X-ray of the wrist to see if bone growth is normal
- A CT or MRI scan (special pictures) of the head to look for a tumor or brain injury
- Chromosome (gene) studies
Are early and late puberty treated?
In most children, no cause is found. It’s just a variation of normal puberty. 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.
What can I do to help my child?
The way children see their own body has a lot to do with their self-esteem. It’s important to let children know they’re OK the way they are and that you love them that way. You can let your child know that they are normal (when the tests are normal). You can tell your child that you’ll help them with any problems (if the tests show a problem). If you need help or if you think your child may need counseling, contact your family healthcare provider.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness – Growing Up OK!
Disorders of Puberty by RD Blondell, M.D., MB Foster, M.D., and KC Dave, M.B.B.S. (07/01/99, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990700ap/209.html )