Puberty happens when a child matures sexually. There will be physical changes in the body; starting at around ages 11 to 12 or younger for girls and ages 11 to 14 for boys. Parents can help their children prepare for this important stage of growing up.
Why are youths often called hormonal teenagers?
When children hit puberty, their bodies produce certain hormones which cause physical changes.
Some of these changes include an increase in height and weight, and the development of hair under the arms and around the genitals, pimples and even body odour.
These physical changes are caused by hormones produced by the body, such as oestrogen and testosterone. However, because of the different levels of testosterone and oestrogen found in the two genders – more testosterone in boys and more oestrogen in girls – boys and girls undergo different physical changes.
Table of physical changes
|Hair Growth||Around the penis, under the arms, and at the face, legs and chest areas||Around the vagina and under the arms|
|Acne & body odour||Skin gets oilier and acne may occur; perspiration increases and may cause body odour|
|Shapes and sizes||Height, weight and muscles increase; shoulders broaden||Height, weight and width of hips increase; fat at the abdominal, buttock and thigh areas increases.|
|Unique changes||Penis and testes enlarge and lengthen; erections and ejaculations occur more frequently; voice cracks||Breasts develop; menstruation occurs|
How boys become men
The first physical change happens when a boy's testicles enlarge and hair sprouts around his genitals. Following that, his body shape changes and he becomes more muscular. His hands, feet, arms and legs will also grow faster than the other parts of his body.
Soon after, his voice will break and deepen. His penis and testes will also continue to enlarge and lengthen, and he will begin to experience erections (this is when the penis is filled with blood and hardens).
Sometimes an erection can be followed by an ejaculation, where semen (a white, sticky fluid containing sperm) flows out through the penis. This can also happen when a boy is asleep, and is known as "wet dreams". Because of the release of semen, his underwear or bed may be a little wet when he wakes up. However, wet dreams lessen and eventually stop with time. A wet dream may occur after an exciting or sexy dream, or it can happen for no reason at all. It is the body's way of keeping the reproductive organs in good working condition.
As erections can happen at any time, and without cause, a boy may feel embarrassed by it, and assume everyone is looking at him, when in fact, no one will unless attention is drawn to it.
Many boys also wonder if their penis is a normal size, and will end up comparing sizes with other boys. This is acceptable behaviour, for a boy to realise that everyone is different. Parents can assure their sons that penis size has nothing to do with their manliness or sexual functioning.
How girls become women
Puberty for girls may begin with some physical changes such as the development of breasts, the sprouting of pubic hair at the genital areas, and the widening of the hips. As a result a girl may start to notice her breasts growing, her hips becoming wider and her body, curvier. Pimples may also start to show up.
Menstruation usually begins at about 12-13 years of age but some girls will get their first menstruation earlier and some later. Just before menstruation, a girl may see some sticky, pale yellowish mucus in her underwear. This is perfectly normal and a sign that things are moving along just fine.
During each menstruation cycle, one of her ovaries releases an egg. This egg will then travel through the fallopian tube towards the uterus. If the egg meets a sperm on the way to the uterus, they may join together in a process called fertilisation. Pregnancy begins if a fertilised egg attaches itself to the uterus wall, which will then become thickly lined with blood and tissue.
If the egg isn't fertilised, the blood and tissue lining the uterus wall will not be needed and will pass out of the girl's body through her vagina during her period.
Preparing for menstruation
A girl who doesn't know about menstruation may get very worried when she first menstruates and "bleeds" . It is important for parents to talk to their daughters about menstruation before it actually happens. You can start by telling her what to expect, and that it is a natural process that happens to every girl. You may consider getting a well-illustrated book to explain the basics and then talk to her about using sanitary pads and keeping clean, and how feelings of cramps, sore breasts or bloatedness are a regular part of the process and can be overcome with a good diet and regular exercise.
As girls go through puberty, they may also start putting on weight and usually have bigger appetites. It is important to explain to pubertal girls that this is a normal process.
Advice to parents
If you have teenagers undergoing puberty, be patient, as it's an emotionally challenging period, and they'll need time to adjust to these physical changes. Encourage your teenagers not to compare their bodies with their friends' because everybody develops differently, and at his or her own pace.