Dreading your child reaching puberty or already going through an awkward time with your teen? Don't worry - help is at hand!
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.
Girls: Physical changes during puberty
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
- During puberty, fat is deposited onto the hips, breasts and thighs - giving girls a more womanly figure
- Her face lengthens and changes shape
- She starts to sweat more
- Her skin will become more oily, meaning she's more prone to spots and acne
- Period pains can also cause problems
Boys: Physical changes during puberty
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
Other physical changes
- During puberty a boy's face lengthens
- He begins to get facial hair
- He starts to sweat more
- His muscles will develop and his chest will broaden
- His skin gets more oily, which means he's likely to get spots or acne
The emotional side of 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
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.
- 'If your son or daughter doesn't want to talk to you, maybe there's another friend or relative they can talk to.'