Although no two people are alike, we all have puberty in common. Puberty is the time when the body develops and changes from the body of a child to the body of an adult. People changes at their own pace during puberty. For some, much of their development will happen quickly in two or three years. For others, changes may be more gradual, taking four to five years. But whether puberty lasts two years or five years, your body will grow faster during this time than at any other time in your life, except as a baby.
For girls, puberty usually begins somewhere between age 8 and 13. For boys, puberty usually starts anywhere between age 10 and 14. Puberty begins when the pituitary gland--a pea-shaped gland located at the bottom of the brain--releases special hormones that signal the gonads (boys' testes, girls' ovaries) to develop.
One of the first signs of puberty for a girl is breast development. For boys, it is an increase in the size of their testicles. Both sexes typically see light hair growth under their arms and on their genitals during the early stages of puberty. Acne usually begins to develop after age 13. Physical growth can occur rapidly at any time during puberty, with height gains of up to 4 inches in a year. Girls generally have their period during the late stages of puberty, after their breasts and hips have grown. Boys' facial hair is typically one of the later features of puberty, after their voice has changed and their testicles and penis have grown.
The changes that occur during puberty distinguish adult males and females, preparing their bodies for sexual reproduction. Boys' testes begin to produce testosterone and sperm. Girls' ovaries begin to produce estrogen and progesterone, and the menstrual cycle begins. A person's body is considered fully developed a few years after reaching adult height. For girls this is around age 17 and boys around age 19.
The production of new hormones not only effects the body, but the mind as well. Confusion, short tempers and strong emotions are all common characteristics of adolescents during puberty. It is normal for adolescents to have many questions about the opposite sex and sexuality during puberty as well.
In many schools, sex-ed begins in the fifth or sixth grade. Many parents choose to talk with their children about puberty before this. Parents, teachers and other adults should remain sensitive and caring as they guide children through this maze of development into adulthood.
When puberty begins earlier than normal--before age 7 or 8 for girls and before age 9 for boys--it is a condition called precocious puberty. This situation usually proceeds with normal development, but parents should talk to their pediatrician to see if treatment may be needed.
Delayed puberty can also occur, meaning the process begins later than normal. Sometimes the reason can be evident: genetic, malnutrition, serious athletic training; but many times the cause is not clear. Parents should see their pediatrician if their child has not begun puberty by age 14.