Time to Change
OK, so it's a funny word but what is puberty, anyway?
Puberty (say: PYOO-ber-tee) is the name for the time when your body begins to develop and change as you move from kid
to adult. We're talking about stuff like girls developing breasts and boys starting to look more like men. During puberty,
your body will grow faster than at any other time in your life, except for when you were a baby.
It helps to know about the changes that puberty causes before they happen. That way, you know what to expect. It's also
important to remember that everybody goes through these changes. No matter where you live, whether you're a boy or a girl,
whether you like vanilla or double-fudge-chunk ice cream, you will experience them. No two people are exactly alike, but one
thing everyone has in common is that we all go through puberty.
Usually, puberty starts between ages 8 and 13 in girls and ages 9 and 15 in boys. This wide range in ages may help explain
why some of your friends still look like young kids whereas others look more like adults.
When your body is ready to begin puberty, your pituitary (say: pih-TOO-uh-ter-ee) gland (a pea-shaped gland located at
the bottom of your brain) releases special hormones. Depending on whether you're a boy or a girl, these hormones go to work
on different parts of the body.
Changes for Boys and Girls
For boys, the hormones travel through the blood and tell the testes (say: TES-teez), the two egg-shaped glands in the
scrotum (the sac that hangs under the penis), to begin making testosterone (say: tess-TAHS-tuh-rone) and sperm. Testosterone
is the hormone that causes most of the changes in a boy's body during puberty, and men need sperm to be able to reproduce
(be the father of a baby).
In girls, these hormones target the two ovaries (say: OH-vuh-reez), which contain eggs that have been in the girl's body
since she was born. The hormones cause the ovaries to start making another hormone, called estrogen. Together, these hormones
prepare a girl's body to start her periods and be able to become pregnant someday.
Boys and girls both begin to grow hair under their arms and their pubic areas (on and around the genitals). It starts
out looking light and thin. Then, as kids go through puberty, it becomes longer, thicker, heavier, curlier, and darker. Eventually,
boys also start to grow hair on their faces.
It's Just a Growth Spurt
A spurt is a short burst of activity or something that happens in a hurry. And a growth spurt is just that: Your body
is growing and it's happening really fast!
When you go through puberty, it might seem like your sleeves are always getting shorter and your pants are creeping up
your legs. That's because you're having a growth spurt that lasts for about 2 to 3 years. When that growth spurt is at its
peak, some kids grow 4 or more inches (10 or more centimeters) in a year! At the end of your growth spurt, you'll have reached
your adult height or just about.
But your height isn't the only thing that changes during puberty.
With all this quick growth, it can seem like one part of your body, your feet for instance are growing faster than everything
else. This can make you feel clumsy or awkward. This is normal, too! The rest of your body will eventually fill out and shape
up, and you'll feel less klutzy.
Your body also fills out and changes shape during puberty. A boy's shoulders will grow wider and his body will become
more muscular. He may notice a bit of breast growth on his chest. Don't worry, this is normal and it goes away for most boys
by the end of puberty.
In addition, boys' voices crack and eventually become deeper, their penises grow longer and wider, and their testes get
bigger. All of these changes mean that their bodies are developing as they should during puberty.
Girls' bodies usually become curvier. Their hips get wider and their breasts develop, starting with just a little swelling
under the nipples. Sometimes one breast grows more quickly than the other, but most of the time they even out. Girls may start
wearing bras around this time, especially if they are involved in sports or exercise classes.
With all this growing and developing going on, some girls may be uncomfortable with how their bodies are changing, but
it's unhealthy for girls to diet to try to stop any normal weight gain. If you have any questions about puberty or are worried
about your weight, talk to your parent or doctor.
One question a girl will have is: When will I get my first period? This usually happens about 2 years after her breasts
start to develop. The menstrual (say: MEN-strul) period, or monthly cycle, is when blood is released through the vagina. That
may sound alarming, but it's normal and it signals that a girl is growing up and her body is preparing so that she can have
a baby someday.
Here's what's going on: Each of a girl's two ovaries holds thousands of eggs. During the menstrual cycle, an egg is released
from one of the ovaries and begins a trip down the fallopian (say: fuh-lo-pee-un) tube to the uterus, also called the womb.
A girl has two fallopian tubes, one connecting each ovary to the uterus.
Before the egg even leaves the ovary, though, hormones stimulate the uterus to build up its inner lining with extra blood
and tissue. If the egg gets to the uterus and is fertilized by a sperm cell, it may plant itself in that lining and grow into
a baby. The extra blood and tissue nourishes and protects the baby as it develops.
But most of the time the egg is only passing through. When the egg doesn't get fertilized, or if the fertilized egg doesn't
become planted in the lining, the uterus no longer needs the extra blood and tissue, so the blood leaves the body through
the vagina. This blood is known as a girl's period. A period usually lasts from 2 to 7 days. About 2 weeks after the last
period, a new egg is released as the cycle repeats itself.
Face Up to Changes
Another thing that may come with puberty is acne (say: AK-nee) or pimples caused by all those hormones at work in the
Skin gets oilier and pimples sometimes start showing up when puberty begins, and you may get them throughout the teenage
years. You might see pimples on your face, your upper back, or your upper chest.
To help control pimples, wash your face twice a day with warm water and a mild soap or cleanser. Don't squeeze, pick,
or pop your pimples. Your doctor can also offer suggestions for clearing up acne. The good news is that acne usually gets
a lot better as you get older.
Putting the P.U. in Puberty
P.U.! A lot of kids notice that they have a new smell under their arms and in other places when they hit puberty and it's
not a pretty one. That smell is body odor (you may have heard people call it B.O.) and everyone gets it.
As you enter puberty, the puberty hormones stimulate the glands in your skin, including the sweat glands under your arms.
When sweat and bacteria on your skin get together, it can smell pretty bad.
So what can you do to feel less stinky? Well, keeping clean can stop you from smelling. You might want to take a shower
every day, either in the morning before school or at night before bed. Wearing clean clothes and showering after you've been
playing sports or exercising is also a good idea.
Another way to cut down on body odor is to use deodorant. If you use a deodorant with antiperspirant, it will cut down
on sweat as well.
Boys and girls will also notice other body changes as they enter puberty. Girls sometimes might see and feel white or
clear stuff coming from the vagina. This doesn't mean anything is wrong — it's called vaginal discharge and is just
another sign hormones are changing your body.
Boys will begin to get erections (this is when the penis fills with blood and becomes hard). Sometimes erections happen
when boys think about sexual things or they can happen for no reason at all. Boys also may experience something called nocturnal
emissions (or wet dreams). This is when the penis becomes erect when a boy is sleeping and he ejaculates. When a boy ejaculates,
semen : the fluid that contains sperm comes out of the penis. That's why they're called wet dreams, they happen when you're
sleeping and your underwear or the bed might be a little wet when you wake up. Wet dreams occur less often as boys move through
puberty and they eventually stop.
Change Can Feel Kind of Strange
Just as those hormones change the way your body looks on the outside, they also create changes on the inside. During puberty,
you might feel confused or have strong emotions that you've never had before. You might feel overly sensitive or become upset
Some kids lose their tempers more often and get angry with their friends or families. You also may feel anxious about
how your changing body looks.
Sometimes it can be hard to deal with all these new emotions. It's important to know that while your body is adjusting
to the new hormones, so is your mind. Try to remember that people usually aren't trying to hurt your feelings or upset you
on purpose. It might not be your family or friends, it might be your new "puberty brain" trying to adjust.
You might also have sexual feelings that you've never felt before. And you will probably have lots of questions about
these new, confusing feelings about sex.
It's easy to feel embarrassed or nervous when talking about sex. It's important to get your questions answered, but you
need to be sure you have all the right information. Some kids can talk to their parents about sex and get all their questions
But if you feel funny talking to your parents about sex, there are many other people you can talk to, like your doctor,
a school nurse, a teacher, a school counselor, or some other adult you feel comfortable talking with.
People are all a little different from each other, so it makes sense that they don't all develop in the same way. During
puberty, everyone changes at his or her own pace. Maybe some of your friends are getting their period, and you haven't developed
breasts yet. Maybe your best friend's voice has changed, and you think you still sound like a kid. Or maybe you're sick of
being the tallest girl in your class or the only boy who has to shave.
In a few cases, kids who are developing very early or who are very late in starting have a problem that may need to be
checked or treated. If you are concerned about that possibility, talk with your parents and schedule a visit with your doctor.
Your doctor knows all about puberty and can help determine if you are developing normally.
But just about everyone catches up eventually, and most differences between you and your friends will even out. Until
then, hang in there. Puberty can be quite a wild ride!
Am I normal?
Since your last birthday, a lot of things have changed. For one, you're much smarter than you were last year. That's obvious.
But there might have been some other changes, ones that you weren't ready for. Perhaps you've sprouted several inches
above everyone else in class. Or maybe they all did the sprouting and you feel too short.
Maybe you haven't gained a pound and you feel like a feather on the seesaw, or maybe you can't fit into your favorite
pair of jeans. And now you're looking in the mirror, thinking only one thing: Am I normal?
First of all, what's normal? There's no one type of normal. Otherwise, the world would be full of a lot of abnormal people!
The next time you go to the mall, take a look around. You'll see tall people, short people, and people with broad shoulders,
little feet, big stomachs, long fingers, stubby legs, and skinny arms ... you get the idea.
You can change your hairstyle or put on a new hat, but the way you look isn't entirely under your control. Your looks
were largely determined by your parents. When your parents created you, they passed on their genes, a kind of special code
and those genes helped to decide your size and shape, your eye color and hair texture, even whether you have freckles.
Small or Tall
Height is just one of the thousands of features your genes decide. In fact, because you have two parents, your genes act
like a referee, giving you a height that usually lands somewhere between the height of each parent. If both your parents are
tall, then most likely you will be tall, too, but if you have questions about how tall you're going to be, ask your doctor
if he or she can help you figure it out.
But genes don't decide everything. For example, eating an unhealthy diet can keep you from growing to your full potential.
Getting plenty of sleep, enough exercise, and nutrients will help you grow just like you should.
No doubt you're wondering how fast you should grow. It depends. There's no perfect or right amount. On average, kids grow
about 2 inches (6 centimeters) a year between age 3 and when they start puberty (when your body starts changing and becoming
more grown up).
Your doctor will know how your growth has been going over the years. Two centimeters here and 2 inches there are not nearly
as important as the height you're at now, how you've been growing up to this point, and what other changes your body may be
Don't be scared if you seem to have grown a lot in a very short time. Everyone has a growth spurt during puberty. The
average age for starting puberty is about 10 for girls and about 11 for boys. But it can be earlier or later, between 7 and
13 for girls and 9 and 15 for boys.
You'll usually begin to notice that you're growing faster about a year or so after your body starts to show the first
changes of puberty and girls will develop breasts and a boy's penis and testicles will get bigger.
Weight can vary a lot, too, from kid to kid. It's tempting to compare yourself with your friends. But kids often weigh
more or less than their friends and are still considered normal. TV and magazines might make us think our bodies should weigh
and look a certain way, but in real life, there are a lot of differences.
Some kids worry so much about their weight that they try unhealthy and dangerous things to change it. The best way to
have a healthy weight is to eat right and get a lot of playtime (exercise).
What to Do if You're Worried
If you have concerns about your weight or how your body is changing, talk it over with a parent or your doctor. The doctor
can tell you if anything is wrong.
But most likely, your one-of-a-kind body is growing just like it's supposed to.
Hair is confusing. When it's on top of the head it's fine, but when it's on other body parts, sometimes people shave it off.
Young kids don't usually do this, but older girls might shave their underarms and their legs. And older boys might shave the
hair on their faces.
Just to make it even more confusing, some men don't shave at all, they grow beards and mustaches. Some women also choose
not to shave. And some male and female athletes, such as swimmers, shave their entire bodies so they glide better in the water!
You probably want to know when boys and girls need to start shaving. But that's a tough one because it depends on whether
you have any hair to shave, whether you see this hair as a problem, and whether your mom or dad thinks it's OK for you to
Here's how shaving works: A razor is a sharp blade that cuts the hair off close to the skin. Shaving removes the tip of
the hair shaft that pokes out of the skin, but the hair grows back. Your skin might stay smooth for as little as a day or
as long as 3 days.
Good stuff about shaving: Shaving is a low-cost way to remove hair. You can do it at home. All you need is a razor, some
warm water, and some soap, shaving foam, or gel. Or you can use an electric razor, which is easier to use and less likely
to cut your skin than a regular razor.
Not-so-good stuff about shaving: Razors are sharp, so you can cut yourself, especially when you're just learning how to
do it. You also can get irritated skin or other problems, such as razor burn, bumps, nicks, cuts, skin infections, or painful
ingrown hairs. Ingrown hairs happen when a hair starts growing into the surrounding tissue, instead of up and out of the skin.
Also, shaving doesn't last long and when the hair grows back, it may feel stubbly.
If you want to start shaving, talk with your mom or dad about it. Let them know why it's important to you. Before you
start, you might want to investigate other ways of removing hair as well so that you can decide which method is best for you.
Honk! Squeak! What the heck is that? A goose playing the trumpet? If you're going through puberty (say: PYOO-bur-tee), it
could be your voice. Both boys and girls experience voice changes as they grow older, but girls' voices get only a little
deeper. A boy's voice, on the other hand, may change quite a bit from sounding like a little kid to sounding like somebody's
Your Leapin' Larynx
How does this happen? The larynx (say: LAIR-inks), also known as your voice box, actually gets bigger during puberty.
The larynx, located in your throat, is a tube-shaped piece of cartilage, the same stuff your ears and your nose are made from.
One of its jobs is to let you talk, sing, hum, yell, laugh, and make all sorts of noises.
When a boy reaches puberty, his body begins making lots of testosterone (say: tes-TOSS-tuh-rone). The testosterone causes
his larynx to grow and his vocal cords to get longer and thicker. Vocal cords are thin muscles that stretch across the larynx
like rubber bands.
What Makes a Voice?
When you speak, air rushes from your lungs and makes your vocal cords vibrate, producing the sound of your voice. If you've
ever plucked a small, thin rubber band, you've heard the high-pitched twang it makes when it's stretched. A thicker rubber
band makes a deeper, lower-pitched twang. It's the same sort of thing with vocal cords.
Before you reach puberty, your larynx is pretty small and your vocal cords are kind of small and thin. That's why your
voice is higher than an adult's. As you go through puberty, the larynx gets bigger and the vocal cords lengthen and thicken,
so your voice gets deeper. As your body adjusts to this changing equipment, your voice may "crack" or "break."
But this process lasts only a few months. Once the larynx is finished growing, your voice won't make those unpredictable,
funny noises anymore.
What About Eve's Apple?
Not only do older guys and men sound different from boys, but you can also see the difference in their necks. When the
larynx grows bigger, it tilts to a different angle and part of it sticks out inside the neck. You can see it at the front
of the throat. This is known as the Adam's apple.
For girls, the larynx also grows bigger but not as much as in boys, so you can't see it through a girl's skin. There is
no "Eve's apple" in a woman's neck.
Voice Your Changing Voice
Everyone's timetable is different, so some kids' voices might start to change earlier and some might start a little later.
Some voices might drop gradually, whereas others might drop quickly.
If this hasn't happened to you yet, don't worry. And if you're going through this now, try not to stress too much about
the funny noises you make. It can help to talk to a parent, an older sibling, or a friend who's already gone through the voice
change. Before you know it, your voice will sound clear, strong, and more grown-up!