Puberty in Boys
Puberty begins for boys as early as the age of eight or as late as age thirteen; it usually takes a boy four to six years to pass through all five stages of pubertal development.
Stage One Internally, male hormones are beginning to flow. Outwardly, you may not notice any growth in height yet.
Stage Two Your son's body shape begins to change as new layers of muscle tissue and fat are formed. His physique starts to become that of a young man, rather than a child. Some boys may gain weight before they grow taller, which might cause them embarrassment. Let your son know that midline plumpness at this age is normal for lots of boys.
Another source of concern and embarrassment may be breast development. Let your son know that men have mammary tissue, too, and that about one-third of boys can expect some swelling under their nipples. This swelling will disappear spontaneously. Some boys worry that they're growing breasts or that they have breast cancer. The areolae of their breasts will also darken and increase in size.
Pubic hair first appears at this stage. A boy's testicles and scrotum begin to grow, and they grow to full size in about three years. His penis begins to grow later and takes several years to reach full adult size. Let your son know about the time difference so that he doesn't worry that his penis will never grow.
Stage Three The penis begins growing, more in length than in width, during this stage. His pubic hair becomes thicker and coarser. His testicles and scrotum continue to develop. Sometimes one testicle grows faster than the other. Assure your son that the difference in growth is normal. Because his testicles produce sperm and his prostate produces semen, your son may experience wet dreams (erotic dreams accompanied by ejaculation). Some boys may be frightened when they first awaken to feel the wet, sticky fluid in their bed, and most keep the news of their nocturnal emissions a secret. During this stage, too, your son will experience spontaneous erections more frequently, not all of them for sexual reasons. He may awake with an erection every morning, but they can also happen at other times, which may cause him embarrassment.
Some boys may begin to show a light sprinkling of facial hair on their upper lip. As his larynx enlarges, a boy's voice also begins to change. His muscle tissue increases, his shoulders broaden, and he becomes taller and stronger. He has his most significant growth in height during this period.
Stage Four During Stage Four, a boy's penis begins to broaden, and the testicles and scrotum may continue to grow. Underarm and facial hair increase, and a boy's skin may become oilier. His sweat glands will increase their production of sweat, and body odor may begin to increase.
Stage Five Your son's testicles and penis will have grown to their full size. For most boys, physical growth in height slows, then stops. Some boys develop more body hair, and many begin shaving off facial hair at this stage.
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Most boys welcome the pubertal changes they're experiencing. They're happy to display bigger muscles, to show off their height and larger sex organs, if only in the locker room. Parents, too, are pleased to see their boys transform into young men. Our society is kinder to boys than to girls during puberty, and parents are less ambivalent toward changes in their sons than they are to the changes in their daughters.
However, parents don't always do a good job of explaining puberty to their boys or of discussing the physical and emotional changes as they occur. Penis growth and wet dreams are much less discussed than breast growth and menstruation. Mothers tend to do most of the talking with kids about pubertal changes, but mothers don't have personal knowledge about how boys change at puberty. Just as fathers may feel awkward discussing menstruation with their daughters, some mothers find themselves uncomfortable talking about wet dreams with their sons. Both of you should find ways to let your son know how his body will change. He needs to know that he can ask either of you any of the questions that concern him.
Boys who begin puberty later than their peers may find the experience very difficult. Assure your son that a late start has no bearing on how he will eventually develop. Also let him know that once he begins puberty, it may unfold more quickly; he may reach full size and maturity about the same time as his friends, even though they started sooner. Late-maturing boys may develop a poor body image and develop negative self-esteem, since they are usually shorter than their peers. Early maturing boys tend to develop a more positive body image, and both adults and peers may regard them as relaxed and self-confident.
While preparing your son for the physical changes of puberty, prepare him as well for the emotional changes. Boys have mood swings, too, although our society doesn't always acknowledge that. Let him know that he won't always feel such intense emotions. Find ways to show him that you care when he's feeling low. Some kids appreciate a shoulder massage even when they won't let you hug them anymore.
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Puberty in Girls
Most thirteen-year-old girls have already gone through their major pubertal changes. The changes that puberty brings occur normally between the ages of seven and seventeen. The journey takes three to five years as your daughter passes through predictable stages of physical development.
Stage One The first outward sign you may notice is a slight growth spurt that could start when your daughter is about eight. Her hips and thighs begin to get wider. She will develop a rounded belly that is her energy store for puberty. The increased growth has been triggered by an increase in hormone production, which is also causing her ovaries to enlarge.
Stage Two Breast development begins. Called "budding," this breast growth begins with "buds" of enlarged tissue underneath the nipples. These buds are often tender to the touch and easily irritated by rough clothing or by jumping up and down. It's common for the two breasts to grow unevenly. One might begin to grow before the other or one might grow faster than the other. Let your daughter know that this may happen so that she's not alarmed. She may also worry that breast swelling is a sign of breast cancer. Reassure her.
Also during this stage, your child will start to grow more quickly in height, and her weight will increase. Fat deposits will continue to round out the hips and give the appearance of a smaller waist. She will begin to grow pubic hair. Her sweat glands will increase their production of sweat, and she will begin to produce body odour.
Stage Three Breasts grow larger. Pubic hair growth continues and the hair becomes curlier. Armpit hair starts to grow, and the hair on legs and arms gets darker and thicker. She begins to discharge a clear or white fluid from her vagina.
Stage Four Your daughter will likely have her first period during this stage, although it could occur earlier. Often a thick white vaginal discharge precedes her period. Also, her nipples become raised and separated from the areolae of her breasts. The growth pattern of her pubic hair takes on its distinct triangular shape. Her skin and hair may become oilier.
Stage Five At this stage, a girl's breasts have reached full development, and her pubic hair growth is complete. Her growth in height slows, then stops. This stage indicates that your daughter has probably attained her full height and that her menstrual periods probably occur in a regular pattern.
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Although her breasts may have begun to develop, her first period may still be a year or more away. The range of normal for girls to begin their periods is between ten and fifteen years of age. Help your daughter get ready for her first period by explaining to her exactly what will happen. She needs to know that her period may start at any time during the day or at night, that it will usually start with a spotting of blood, but that it might start with a heavier flow. You don't want her to be totally surprised when she first sees the reddish or brownish menstrual blood on her underwear.
Make sure she has all the supplies she needs. Buy her a variety of tampons and sanitary pads well before you expect that her period might start. Show her the instructions on how to attach sanitary pads or how to insert a tampon. Suggest that she experiment to find which is most comfortable so that she knows what she's doing before her period starts. She should keep a couple of pads or tampons in her school bag or purse and take supplies with her when she goes away overnight. Let her know that if she chooses tampons, she should usually replace one at least every four hours. Health Canada suggests that a girl not use a tampon overnight.
Her first periods may be irregular -- she may have one period and then not have another for a few months, or she may get them more frequently until her body adapts to the hormonal changes. For most girls, a monthly period lasts four days, but a normal range is from two to eight days. It's common for a girl to have painless cycles (without ovulation) for one or two years after her first period. But some girls experience abdominal cramps before or during their periods; some might even have experienced minor abdominal discomfort before their first period.
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for the painful menstruation that affects every woman at some point in her life and that can sometimes interfere with work or school. The symptoms, which include severe abdominal cramping, headaches, nausea, and vomiting, usually begin just before the menstrual period and last for up to two days. Some women experience a dull abdominal pain extending to the lower back and legs.
If your daughter experiences these symptoms, ensure that she visits her doctor in order to rule out a serious underlying condition such as endometriosis. Most often, fortunately, there is no underlying cause, but her doctor can help find an effective treatment to reduce or eliminate the pain.
He may prescribe medication (to reduce inflammation and ease aches and pains) to take before her period starts and for two days after. Or he may prescribe low-dose oral contraceptives to suppress ovulation and thereby eliminate the symptoms. Some women find that improved nutrition and adequate sleep and exercise help reduce painful menstrual periods.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) encompasses symptoms (such as bloating, cramps, mood swings, irritability, acne, and breast tenderness) that begin seven to fourteen days before a girl's menstrual period. These symptoms are not very common in teens, but they have been linked to fluctuating hormones; if your daughter experiences them, she should consult her doctor. Managing stress, exercising, and changing one's diet can ease the severity of PMS. Reducing caffeine can ease breast soreness and irritability. Reducing salt can ease bloating.
Let your daughter know that she may also experience mood swings. Her feelings -- both positive and negative -- may be more intense than earlier in her life. She may cry or laugh more easily or have more difficulty controlling her anger. She may find it harder to concentrate. Suggest she record some of the emotional and physical experiences of her period so that she gets to know what to expect of her own body's menstrual cycle.
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Much has been written in recent years about girls in early adolescence. Because our society tends to value a very limited and mostly unattainable ideal of female attractiveness, the pubertal changes that turn girls into women can frighten some girls, and they may not welcome the changes at all. Others may find that their self-esteem is shaken, and they may be prone to eating disorders, addictions, depression, even suicide. Parents may find that they need to help their daughters talk through their volatile emotions during this time so that they not only accept the inevitable changes of puberty but also welcome and celebrate them.
A girl and her parents may all have mixed feelings about the beginning of her period. Your daughter will be curious and a little excited about this mysterious new level of physical maturity. At the same time, she may not be happy about the physical discomfort and inconveniences. She may feel irritated or even intensely embarrassed by the necessity of changing pads or tampons regularly and making sure she has everything she needs with her all the time. These feelings may increase if she's an early bloomer whose period starts at age nine or ten, or just earlier than her friends start theirs. Let her know that you understand her feelings.
A girl's reactions to her first period depend largely on what she learns about it beforehand and on the support she receives from family members. You may feel sad that your child is no longer "a little girl," but your daughter's first period is an important rite of passage. She will likely become more emotionally independent as well as physically mature. Some mothers find they have a strong emotional reaction to their daughter's first period. If, as a teenager, you had difficult menstrual periods yourself, you may worry that your daughter may experience the same discomfort. You should be aware that your own menses history is not any prediction of your daughter's experiences.
Dads may feel unsure about how to relate to their daughters. In some families, menstruation may be a taboo topic between the females and males. But daughters need to know at least that their fathers know about menses, and that they can help. If your daughter wants to tell her mother when her period starts but Mom's not available, Dad needs to be prepared to support his daughter, even to go out and buy pads if she needs them.
Excerpted from Understanding Your Teen: Ages 13 to 19 by Christine Langlois. Copyright 1999 by Telemedia Communications Inc. Excerpted, with permission by Ballantine Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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