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
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
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
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
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
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 answered.
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