Puberty is the time in our lives when our sexual and reproductive organs mature. This means our bodies become capable of creating babies. Long before any outward changes happen, special
hormones begin to be produced inside the bodies of both girls and boys. These hormones affect many different things, including sexual development and growth.
Puberty starts around 11 years for girls and 12 years for boys, give or take a year or so. Physical changes become obvious at about 11 to 14 years for most girls, and about 13 to 16 years for most
boys. Along with these physical changes come emotional changes. We also start to think differently at this time in our lives. There are quite a few major changes to deal with during puberty.
Physical changes for girls
- Height – you’ll grow taller.
- Curves develop – your hips widen and your body is becoming curvier.
- Breasts begin to form – the first stage is called ‘budding’. Sometimes your breasts may be different sizes. This is normal. If you’re worried, see a doctor.
- Hair growth – hair will start to grow around the pubic area and underarms, while hair on the legs and arms darkens.
- Vaginal discharge – you may start to get a whitish discharge from the vagina. This is a natural self-cleaning process the vagina uses and it’s nothing to worry about.
- Periods – your menstrual periods start. The bleeding from your period is not like bleeding from injury; it’s a normal process where the body removes the lining of the uterus (womb) that has built up over the last month.
- Period pain – You may start to have period pain just before, or at the beginning of, a period. Warm drinks and a hot water bottle (held to the tummy) can be helpful. For some women, exercise helps. See a doctor if you have too much pain. Sometimes, medication is needed.
You can’t tell for sure exactly when you’ll get your period. Usually your period will start off lightly, so you will have plenty of time to get to the bathroom. You may notice you feel damp or wet.
Some women get period pain or cramp in the lower abdomen (tummy) that tells them that they’ll get their period soon. You may notice a slight clear or whitish discharge between periods, before you get your first period, or both.
Periods can be irregular, especially at first. They may vary both in how often they happen and how long they last. After the first year or so, periods tend to become fairly regular; usually they come about once every four weeks.
Pads and tampons
Carry a sanitary pad or tampon in your purse or school bag to be prepared. A pad is usually the easiest to use at first. Change pads and tampons regularly, at least two or three times a day, depending on the menstrual flow.
It’s important to make sure that the vagina does not get too dry, so you may need to use smaller tampons or a pad when your flow is light. Tampons have been associated with toxic shock syndrome (a very serious illness) when not changed regularly.
Physical changes for boys
If you’re a boy, the physical changes you’ll notice around puberty include:
- Height and muscles – you’ll get taller and stronger and start to develop muscle mass.
- Genitals – your testicles and penis size increase. It’s normal for one testicle to be bigger than the other. Some young men worry about their penis size; however, sexual functioning
– including the ability to have sexual intercourse and father children – doesn’t depend on penis size. If you’re worried, have a chat to a doctor or health professional.
- Hair growth – body hair begins to grow around the pubic area, legs, underarms and on the face. The hair starts off fine and becomes coarser and darker over the years of puberty. Some men continue to grow a bit and develop more body hair right into their 20s.
- Voice changes – in puberty, the voice becomes deeper. This is sometimes called ‘voice breaking’ because of the ups and downs in tone.
- Wet dreams – nocturnal emissions, or wet dreams, can happen in your sleep. Wet dreams are an ejaculation of semen – not urine – that has dampened your sheets. This is a normal part of growing up.
- Erections – sometimes erections can happen because you’re nervous or excited, or just for no reason at all, and can make you feel embarrassed. Other people usually don’t notice them as much as you do and they go away within minutes.
- Breast changes – some boys’ breasts may grow slightly or feel tender. This is a normal reaction to the hormones in your body. This will eventually go away.
Although puberty refers to the physical changes of the body, there are also many emotional changes taking place, which affect boys and girls. They include:
- Coping with your changing body – young people have to deal with rapid physical change; all of a sudden, you have a new body shape and you may begin to feel selfconscious about how you look. You might feel embarrassed if you feel different to your friends. Other people may start to respond to you differently. You look older and may be treated as an older person.
- Frustration because you feel different – it can be difficult to cope with early physical changes or it also can be frustrating waiting for physical changes to happen.
- Mood swings – the rapid and abrupt release of hormones into your body can bring about extremes in emotion and mood. It’s a temporary imbalance and will settle down. Your parents might complain about your moods, but remember … it’s not the real you. It’s just those wild hormones affecting the way you feel.
- Energy changes – the fast physical growth and other changes in your body can mean you swing between having boundless energy and being extremely tired.
Your thinking will change
The way you think changes around this time. You’re starting to choose your own standards and ideals; to form your own ideas, morals and values; and to rely less on your parents for knowledge about life and the world. You may be starting to think about some deep questions like ‘Who am I?’, ‘Why am I here?’ or ‘What is the meaning of life?’.
You’re developing your own identity as an individual rather than as a part of the family. This could mean showing your parents or the world that you have very different individual tastes in your personal style. Some young people choose to do this in wild ways, while others take a more subtle approach.
Your relationship with your parents
You may want more independence, while – on the other hand – not wanting to give up the support of your parents just yet. This can mean that one minute you feel quite adult and the next you’re feeling like a child again. It may mean that you act impulsively at times and engage in some risktaking behaviour.
Parents sometimes worry a lot when you want to go out on your own and do things independently, because they don’t want you to come to any harm. They may either know first hand or have heard of some people who take advantage of young people. They’re probably quite aware of the risks that some young people take (they may have done it themselves).
What this means is that there can be conflict between parents (who want their child safe) and a young person who wants independence. Try to sit down and work it out calmly with your parents.
Getting through puberty
Puberty can be an unsettling time. It can also be an exciting time, as you move from childhood to adulthood, and take on all the rights and responsibilities of adulthood. Puberty can be difficult for parents and for young people as everyone adjusts to the changes.
Everyone needs to have patience. Parents are learning too. If there are disagreements, listen to what they have to say and let them know your point of view. Show them that you can take care of yourself in a mature and wise fashion.
Try to be considerate – for example, let your parents know where you are and if you have a change of plans. These small things can make a huge difference. They will show your parents that you can act responsibly and safely.By handling situations calmly and maturely, your parents will build up their trust in you and come to realise you are on the way to being able to take care of yourself
If you have any concerns please come and see one of our Brisbane Doctors or our Registered Nurse for the best advice.
For an appointment please call 07 3351 8593 or book an appointment online.