What is Puberty?

growing up Our bodies are constantly changing from the day we are born until the day we die. Puberty is the period of time when children begin to mature biologically, psychologically, socially and cognitively. Girls start to grow into women and boys into men.

This process can take a year or even six years. This time period is when a child's body takes on those characteristics that define it sexually. Both males & females bodies will each take on a different shape. Keep in mind that everyone matures at their own pace, but eventually we all catch up. Puberty leads to adolescence.

Adolescence is a transitional period between childhood and adulthood. The changes of adolescence do not occur on a strict timeline; instead the changes occur at different times according to a unique internal calendar known only to the person. Adolescence can be a very difficult time. You are no longer a child, but you are not an adult yet either.

What Causes All These Changes?

Hormones cause these changes. The brain knows when the body is nearing sexual maturity. It releases chemicals called hormones. Different hormones are responsible for different changes in you. As you get nearer to puberty, the brain and pituitary gland release hormones that regulate the reproductive organs of both males and females. These hormones stimulate the ovaries of girls to produce other hormones called estrogen and progesterone, and the testes of boys to produce testosterone.

Growth hormones are also stimulated -- they make the body grow larger; sometimes very quickly. Arms and legs get longer and internal body organs get larger. Your body is experiencing a major growth surge. This surge lasts about two to three years.

Some people can grow even four inches in one year during this growth period known as the “growth spurt”. When this growth period is over you will be at your adult height. As your body grows taller your body will also change in other ways also. You will gain weight, and your overall shape will change. Boys shoulders will widen, and their bodies will become more muscular. Their voices will become deeper, their genitals will enlarge. All these changes mean that the body is developing correctly during puberty.

Girls usually become curvier during this time, they tend to gain weight on their hips, (some don't) and their breasts develop. Girls often will notice an increase in overall body fat. If you ever have questions or concerns about your weight, talk it over with your health care provider or parent. After one to two years after a girl's breasts start to develop they will experience their first menstrual period. One more change that lets you know that puberty is happening. We talk more about the menstrual cycle in detail in our “Menstrual Cycle” section.

Boys, between the ages of twelve and seventeen will see their shoulders broaden, the muscles strengthen and the genitals develop and darken to become covered with pubic hair. The larynx lengthen and the voice 'breaks' on its way to becoming 'deeper'. Spontaneous erections start to occur (sometimes embarrassing), nocturnal emissions of sperm are also a sign of sexual maturity. See 'Wet Dreams' for more information on those.

One of the first signs of puberty is hair growth. Boys and girls begin to grow hair under their arms and in the pubic area. This is often the first sign that puberty has begun. As puberty progresses it will become thicker, darker and heavier. Boys will begin to grow hair on their faces.

deodorantAnother part of puberty is acne, it is caused by the hormones that are present during puberty. (See our Acne section for more on this annoying problem.) As you enter puberty, the puberty hormones affect the glands that are under your arms and cause you to have "body odor". This is normal and everybody gets it, it can be more intense for some teens, and often you are just unlucky if you have a problem with body odor, but check out that link.

Hormones are also responsible for the emotional changes that take place during puberty. You may feel confused, have emotional outbursts, feel sad, or have strong emotions or mood that change quickly. You might be overly sensitive or easily lose your temper. There are those crazy hormones working on you again. If you feel really out of control or depressed, consult with your health care provider. If you think a friend or you are depressed, see 'When A Friend is Depressed' and Depression. Also our Stress and Stress Management pages have all kinds of helpful ways to deal with the stress of this trying time.

When Does Puberty Happen?

For girls, puberty can begin between the ages of nine to fourteen. For boys, it will be around age ten to seventeen. (See the charts on the next page for girls and there is one for boys, for more details). The whole process can last from only one year to as many as six years. Lots of things are happening. A boy is becoming a man, a girl a woman. Puberty also brings adolescence -- those new thoughts and feelings. Sometimes these physical and emotional changes don't happen at the same time. A girl or boy can possibly mature emotionally before they do physically. The opposite is also true. This can be a very difficult time. Sometimes kids who start to develop early are not prepared for the myriad changes going on in their bodies. Boys also feel that their bodies are out of proportion. These feelings can make one very self-conscious and even feel very socially isolated.

Common Concerns of Adolescents

Common concerns identified by adolescents include conflicts with parents, conflicts with siblings, concerns about peers and peer relationships, concerns about school and in today’s world, concerns about their physical safety.

Personal identity is an overwhelming concern expressed by adolescents. Parents of adolescents may also have concerns about their child during this period. Common concerns related to the adolescent’s behavior include: risk-taking behavior, rebelliousness, wasting time, mood swings, drug experimentation, school problems, psychosomatic complaints and sexual activity. Communication between family members can help make this transition a much less stressful period! For more on mental health topics, see the Mental Health area.

If you are going through these changes and finding it difficult, just remember that soon you will be a young man or a young woman. Talk to your parents about how you are feeling, they went through this period of change too (believe it or not), or talk to a friend. Your friends are probably going through the same thing. Sometimes it helps to discuss the changes that are going on in your body, this way you won't feel strange or alone with the changes in your voice, mood, body and so on. I know it might be hard to believe this, but your parents went through puberty too once.

For more on the Normal Stages of Puberty for Girls, go to the next page, to view the chart. This information has been requested frequently.

For more on the Stages of Puberty For Boys, Click to that chart...

Breast Development and Questions Answerered by Iris F. Litt, MD

For Sexual Health and FAQs, see Sex Stuff...

For more on how you will develop sexually or for questions you may have, try the FAQ pages.

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