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Preteens the Middle Years : She is Starting Puberty! Changing bodies, first dates (part 2) - What to expect during puberty Physical changes

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What to expect during puberty Physical changes

As puberty begins, your child’s body undergoes the physical changes necessary to take her from childhood to adulthood. It is the hormone testosterone, produced by the testes, that kicks off puberty for boys, and for girls it is estrogen, produced by the ovaries, that gets things going. These hormones, also known as chemical messengers, start and stop bodily changes.

Puberty usually starts for girls between the ages of nine and 13 and, for boys, from 10 to 15. The exact timing for your child will depend on genetics; a child’s age at the onset of puberty is often similar to that of his or her parent of the same sex.

Educate your child on what to expect during puberty. When she knows what comes next she’ll be more ready and able to adapt to her changing body. This may involve a long heart-to-heart at first followed up by frequent short conversations as questions come up for her.

Ensure your discussions on the subject are in private, and leave her with books about how puberty affects both boys and girls so that she can find more details at her leisure. Frequently mothers talk this through with daughters and fathers with sons. However, there is no hard and fast rule: Give your child the choice of whether she speaks to one of you or both at times.

On the outside
Penis and testicles

Your son will notice his testicles and penis grow. This could start as early as age 10 to 11 but, for most, will be around 13 to 14.

Breasts and body shape

The first sign of puberty in your daughter is likely to be breast development, beginning with the creation of “breast buds” as her nipples swell, followed by gradual growth of breast tissue, filling out around age 12 to 13 for most girls. Her hips will also widen as her body becomes more womanly and less boyish.

Height

With puberty comes a growth spurt. Your child’s rate of growth, averaging around 2–21/4 inches (5–6 cm) a year so far, will accelerate for your daughter to about 31/2 inches (9 cm) a year, with the peak of her growth around age 12. Your son’s spurt will probably be a little later. He’ll gain about 4 inches (10 cm) in height a year, most noticeably between the ages of 14 and 15, but starting as young as 12 or 13 for some.

Hair

Pubic, followed by underarm, hair will start to grow for both boys and girls. Your son will also develop facial and chest hair, and you might find him frequently examining himself in the mirror for fuzz on his upper lip.

Voice

Your son’s voice will deepen around age 14 to 15 as testosterone lengthens and thickens his vocal cords. This may be a gradual process, or he may at times have his usual, higher voice, and then, perhaps comically to you but possibly to his embarrassment, his tone will suddenly deepen. Eventually this deeper voice will be a permanent feature. He will also notice an Adam’s apple as his vocal cords tilt, showing up as a lump on his throat. Your daughters’ voice will also deepen a little, usually later, roughly between ages 15 and 16.

Sweat

Your child’s sweat glands will become more active and skin can be affected by acne. Pimples are usually a little worse for boys than girls and are caused when sebum, an oil that works to keep skin soft and supple, is overproduced and blocks pores. Keeping skin clean helps reduce the occurrence of pimples, and good personal hygiene is a must in general, because all that sweat can create body odor if soap is not used regularly. You may need to remind your child about this.

On the inside
The ability to reproduce

Alongside the visible signs of puberty, your child’s body is becoming ready to reproduce. Your daughter is likely to reach maturity in this area first, with menstruation (also known as her period or “time of the month”), beginning when she is between the ages of nine and 17, with most girls starting at age 13 to 14. Menstruating is the sign that the lining of her uterus is able to sustain a fetus. It may also mean her ovaries are releasing eggs, but periods can occur, at least at first, without eggs being produced. Your daughter will cope more easily with her first periods if she is well prepared about what to expect, familiar with how to use and dispose of pads or tampons, and knows how to maintain personal hygiene.

Your son will begin to produce mature sperm sometime between the ages of 11 and 17; most boys have reached this stage by age 15. This means his sperm will be able to fertilise an egg and create a baby. He will handle these changes more confidently if you’ve explained in advance about erections, ejaculation, and wet dreams.

Even though you may feel your child isn’t ready for sexual relationships yet, both your son and daughter need to be educated, or reminded, about contraception and the meaning of intimacy in relationships.

When to worry

There is considerable variation in the timing of pubescent development. It will happen in its own time, whether your child wishes it to be sooner or later. However, for a very small number of children there may be a medical issue which affects the timing of puberty. If your child is not showing any signs of puberty, such as the beginnings of breast or testicle development, by the age of 14, seek a medical opinion from your pediatrician.

Educate

It is very important that you explain the physical and emotional changes of puberty to your child. If he or she knows what to expect, it will make this time easier.

Moustache

Your son will start to grow facial hair, starting with a light covering on the upper lip.

Keeping clean

Help your child with personal hygiene by providing deodorant.

First bra

Buying new underwear will help her feel comfortable with her changing body.

Baby fat and other issues Achieving a healthy body image

Changes in body shape are an inevitable aspect of puberty. Your child may become very concerned about her appearance—including her size, skin, and pimples—and her rate of development, especially if she is earlier or later than her peers in showing signs of puberty. It is commonly said that children lose their “baby fat” at puberty, however this is not the case. If your child is overweight in the early years she is likely to continue to be large as she matures, unless changes in diet and activity level are made. An additional factor in weight change at puberty is that time spent playing sports and being physically active tends to drop as your child reaches middle school. This reduction in exercise can affect her weight while, at the same time, she is experiencing an increase in consciousness of her shape and size. Your role is to support your child’s healthy lifestyle and sympathize with her worries without being patronizing or minimizing her concerns. This is no easy feat, and you may feel like you’re walking on eggshells trying to be sensitive without implying there is a problem.

Help her gain a healthy view of her body
  • Include healthy eating and regular exercise as part of your routine for the whole family. A balanced diet at puberty helps with general well-being and benefits adolescent skin conditions. When the whole family is involved, your child does not feel singled out or that you’re implying she is overweight or unhealthy.

  • Accept her no matter what. Compliment her on her achievements, appearance, and personal qualities to balance her own self-criticism.

  • Watch what you say: Comparisons with others or joking comments about puberty or her appearance can be deeply hurtful to your child even though you don’t mean any offense.

  • Understand and be sensitive to her concerns about her appearance. Reassure her that you love her and how she looks, but acknowledge she may not feel this way herself. Offer practical help if she raises a specific problem. For example, assistance on a bad hair day or to conceal pimples is often appreciated, even if all you do is buy her the product she needs rather than fuss over the application.

I want to be like you

If your child’s concerns about her body cause her distress, for example becoming obsessed with skinny models in magazines (see image), get advice and support from a doctor or youth counselor.

How do I look?

Help your child develop a healthy body image (see image), by being sensitive and reassuring about her appearance.

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