As children approach their early teens, puberty begins. These are the changes that will lead to adulthood, and the ability to have children.
The developments affect the body in terms of size, shape, and composition, as well as internal body systems and structure. Psychological and social changes also take place. Boys and girls grow rapidly in the first half of puberty, and they stop growing when puberty is completed.
Hormone signals from the brain will tell the body that it is time for puberty to start. The signals will go to the ovaries in females, and the testes in males.
In response, the ovaries and testes produce a range of hormones that stimulate growth and change in various parts of the body, including the reproductive organs, breasts, skin, muscles, bones, hair, and the brain.
Puberty differs in a number of ways between boys and girls. Girls start puberty about 1 to 2 years earlier than boys, and they generally finish more quickly.
Puberty can be an exciting and challenging time.
Girls reach adult height and are able to have children approximately 4 years after the first physical signs of puberty, but boys continue to grow for about 6 years after the first visible signs.
A girl’s puberty can span from the age of 9 to 14 years, while a boy’s lasts from the ages of 10 to 17 years.
The main male sex hormones are testosterone and androgen. Testosterone produces the changes related to virilization, or “becoming male,” including a deeper voice, facial hair, and muscle development.
Female development depends mostly on estrogen and estradiol. Estradiol promotes the growth of the uterus and breasts.
Both males and females have estradiol, but levels rise earlier in girls than in boys, and women have higher levels than men. Similarly, testosterone plays a role in female development, but to a lesser extent than in males.
Puberty in females
During puberty, the female sexual organs grow, and menstruation begins. After this, pregnancy can occur.
The first sign may be a vaginal discharge, and the appearance of body hair in the pubic area, under the arms, and on the legs.
Skin becomes more oily, and the body produces more sweat, making deodorant necessary. This is because the oil and sweat glands are developing. Acne is also common.
Changes appear in the shape and size of the body:
The breasts start to grow, often starting with a small and sometimes painful lump just below the nipple
The hips widen, the waist becomes proportionally smaller, and extra fat will develop on the stomach and buttocks
The arms, legs, hands, and feet may grow faster than other parts of the body.
Some girls feel uncomfortable during this stage of development, but it is normal. The accumulation of extra fat is normal, and it does not necessarily mean that the girl is overweight.
Emotions may fluctuate, causing irritability, especially around the time of the monthly period. This is because hormone levels vary during the menstrual cycle.
If the emotional changes become too strong, a doctor may be able to provide medication or suggest lifestyle changes that can help, such as regular physical exercise to help reduce the effects of premenstrual tension (PMT) or premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Puberty in males
As boys enter puberty, the scrotum becomes thinner and redder, and the testicles start to grow. Around the age of 13 years, the penis grows and lengthens.
The voice box, or larynx, gets bigger, the muscles or vocal cords grow, and the voice will “break” or “crack,” and eventually become deeper.