Dreading your child reaching puberty or already going through an awkward time with your developing teen?
Puberty can be a strange time for parents as well as kids – your polite, well behaved child suddenly turns into a moody and stroppy teenager – and you can’t seem to say anything right.
In this article we explain what’s going on with your child’s body during puberty, the physical and emotional changes they’re going through and how you can help them.
What is puberty?
We’re sure you remember what puberty was like! A release of hormones causes changes in the body and the reproductive organs develop. You’ll notice physical changes in your child – they’ll get suddenly taller, girls develop breasts and so on.
The hormones also cause psychological changes – which means your child is likely to be more moody and feel more self conscious of their body.
The physical changes of puberty are split into 5 stages, known as the Tanner stages.
Physical changes during puberty: Girls
Most girls start puberty between ages 8-13, but the average age is 11. However, there’s lots of variation and all girls mature at different rates – so if your daughter is starting puberty before or after her friends, don’t be be worried.
Girls tend to start puberty earlier than boys and they reach full maturity within 4 years. See your doctor if your daughter starts puberty before she’s 8, has shown no signs or puberty by the time she’s 14 or hasn’t started her periods by the time she’s 16.
The Tanner stages of puberty for girls are:
Stage one: This is the stage before puberty really starts, and girls usually reach it when they’re 8-10. Their height starts to increase by as much as 5-6cm per year, their nipples may swell slightly and their ovaries start to grow.
Stage two: The area around the nipple starts to swell, pubic hair starts to develop along the labia and the clitoris becomes larger. They’ll still be getting taller – growing up to 7-8cm per year. Girls usually reach this stage when they’re around 11.
Stage three: The breasts continue to swell and now might be a good time to buy your daughter her first bra. Pubic hair becomes coarser and curlier and underarm hair starts to grow. They’re growing at the fastest rate now – up to 8cm per year. Girls usually reach this stage when they’re over 12.
Stage four: The breasts start to develop into a more adult shape and girls get their first period around this time. By the end of stage four they’ll be having regular periods. Although they are still getting taller, the rate they’re growing at has slowed down and is now about 7cm per year. This stage usually occurs when they’re around 13-years-old.
Stage five: At around 14-and-a-half years, the breasts have fully developed and pubic hair spreads to the inner thighs. Now girls have fully-developed genitals. They stop getting taller at around 16 – and are then physically mature.
Other physical changes
Physical changes during puberty: Boys
Boys tend to hit puberty a bit later then girls – and their development takes longer. Most boys will begin puberty when they’re between 10-15 years old, although the average age is 12. It usually takes them 6 years to reach full maturity.
As with girls, all boys develop at their own rate – so don’t panic if your son seems to be developing earlier or later than his friends. See your doctor if there is no sign of testicular development by the time they are 14, or if they started puberty more than 5 years ago but the penis and the testicles haven’t reached full adult development.
These are the Tanner stages of puberty for boys:
Stage one: This is the stage before puberty when boys start to get taller – they’ll be growing by 5-6cm per year.
Stage two: Boys usually reach this stage at about 12 – the scrotum thins and reddens, testicles get bigger and fine pubic hair appears at the base of the penis. Their body fat usually decreases too.
Stage three: The penis grows and lengthens – testicles continue to grow and pubic hair becomes thicker and curlier. They’ll also still be getting taller – now growing 7-8cm per year. Their breasts swell slightly, the voice breaks and they might have wet dreams. Boys reach this stage at around 13.
Stage four: At around 14-years-old, they get taller at the fastest rate – growing up to 10cm in one year. The penis and testicles also continue to grow and the scrotum darkens. They start to get underarm hair.
Stage five: Once they’re around 15 the genitals look like an adult’s and pubic hair spreads to inner thighs. They’re not growing as fast anymore and stop getting taller by about 17. They might still grow more muscle after this and will reach full maturity between 18-19-years-old.
Other physical changes
Emotional changes during puberty
Probably the most worrying thing for your child during puberty is the emotional changes they experience, rather than the physical changes to their bodies. Hormones are racing through them and they start to feel more moody, self-conscious and even aggressive.
Trying to talk to them can seem difficult – you don’t want to embarrass them and make them withdraw, but with the right approach you can really help them.
Sue Atkins is a parent coach and the author of Raising Happy Children for Dummies, creator of positive-parents.com and the parent and teenager toolkit. Here, Sue gives her advice on giving emotional support to your child during puberty:
When to start talking about puberty
Start when it feels natural – lots of parents feel shy talking about puberty. Take the lead from your kids – if they ask you a question then answer it appropriately to their age and maturity. Then they don’t grow up frightened or embarrassed because it’s more natural.
During puberty, kids are maturing mentally and becoming more free thinking. They don’t necessarily understand their mood swings. You can talk to them about it and tell them that it’s normal, but have boundaries so they know they can’t just throw a strop and make everyone’s life hell.
Try to be understanding if your child is throwing a strop. A simple technique is when you’re away from them, write their name down on a piece of paper and stand on it. Then put yourself in your child’s shoes and finish these sentences: ‘I think…’, ‘I see….’, ‘I feel…’. I use this technique in my workshops a lot, it’s a very simple but very useful way of getting an insight. You might find that they feel they’re not being listened to or they’re not being allowed to be independent.
Be more observant of your own behaviour and your child’s behaviour and try to be objective so you can adapt and be more flexible.
Give your son or daughter choices so they feel like they have control, for example say: ‘You can go out till 10pm and I can pick you up, or you can get a taxi home – but you’re coming home at 10pm’ – teenagers want to feel that they’re being respected as adults.
Talking about embarrassing issues
It’s down to you how you talk to them about things – your kids will take their cues from you. If you find it stressful to talk about embarrassing things then they will too.
Don’t pretend it’s not happening – the days when nobody talks about puberty and sex are over. Kids are clued in now, they know the facts on puberty from school – you can put the emotional part in and pass on your values about sex and relationships.
Don’t feel you have to pick a time to have a talk about the birds and the bees – let them bring things up and be natural and compassionate.
How puberty makes you feel
If you think puberty will be difficult and your child will turn into Kevin and Perry, it will. They’ll take their lead from you and your attitude. It’s going to be a change and you’ll need to be more flexible, but life is all about transition and change. Keep an open mind and try to build bridges.