Puberty -- the period in a person's live during which the body undergoes the transformation from child to adult -- can be an exciting, but also scary time for a child. It's a time of huge change -- both physically and emotionally. Read on to learn what to expect in girls and boys and how to help your child cope if puberty starts early.
Puberty for Girls
At puberty, a girl's body goes through many changes, including the newly developed ability to bear children. Some of the physical differences girls notice include:
- The beginning of breast development. The growth of breasts is often the first sign of puberty. As breasts emerge, it's not unusual for one to be larger than the other.
- Hair growth. Expect to notice hair growth in the pubic area and under the arms.
- Change in body shape. A girl's hips tend to get wider and her waist smaller as she goes through puberty. Also, her body will begin to store fat in the stomach, buttocks, and legs.
- The onset of menstruation. Most girls get their periods between 10 and 15 years of age. The first period typically appears between two and three years after breasts start to develop.
Puberty for Boys
Among the changes boys will notice:
- A growth spurt. A boy's arms, legs, hands and feet may grow rapidly, as he gets taller and his shoulders broaden.
- Changes to penis and testes. The penis and testes will grow and boys may experience more erections as a result of an increase in sex hormones.
- Voice deepens. Boys develop deeper voices (though their voices may crack before they deepen).
- Hair growth. Hair will begin to grow on legs, face, underarms, and in the pubic area.
When Puberty Occurs
Traditionally, pediatric guidelines indicated that most girls entered puberty between ages 8 and 13 and boys between ages 9 and 14. However, there appears to be a trend toward girls entering puberty at a younger age. Recent studies show that puberty may be starting about a year earlier than previous guidelines indicated, and that black girls mature close to a year earlier than white girls, says Paul Kaplowitz, M.D., chief of endocrinology at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC and author of the forthcoming book Early Puberty in Girls: The Essential Guide to Coping with This Common Problem (Ballantine Books, February 2004).
Early puberty seems to be much more common in girls than in boys, adds Dr. Kaplowitz, but rest assured: "Signs of puberty in girls between the ages of 7 and 8 are fairly common and don't usually indicate a serious problem," he says. When should parents be concerned? "If your daughter is clearly going through puberty rapidly before age 8, she should be seen by a pediatrician or family physician who can decide is it is necessary to see a specialist," he suggests. Also, keep in mind that the appearance of pubic hair, isn't the same thing as actually having puberty because the hormones which cause the growth of pubic hair come from the adrenal glands, while the hormones which promote breast growth come from the ovaries, explains Dr. Kaplowitz.
Helping Your Early Bloomer
If it turns out that your child is an early bloomer, there are a few things you can do to help ease him or her through what can be an unsettling time.
- Talk it out. "Children are transitioning into friend-based relationships and being different in any way can be traumatic," says LuAnn Moraski, DO, assistant professor and director of the Med-Peds Program at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "Start discussing 'growing up' and how it can happen early. If kids know what to expect, they will be less worried that there is something 'wrong' with them."
- Share your concerns with your child's doctor. "Don't worry alone," advises Dr. Moraski. "Talk to your child's doctor -- he or she may be able to allay your fears."
- Follow up with a specialist, if necessary. If your child's doctor is concerned, he or she may refer your child to a pediatric endocrinologist for additional evaluation.
- Reassure your child about the changes her body is undergoing. "If your child's doctors determine her development is normal for her, explain that she's just 'leading the pack' and others will catch up," says Dr. Moraski. Also, be open to issues like her wearing deodorant and picking out a bra that you may have to consider earlier than you thought.
- Let your child know he's loved. Show your child through words and actions that he's loved unconditionally just the way he is.
The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.