What is Puberty? A Basic Guide for Parents of Tweens

The Stages and Signs of Puberty and How You Can Help

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Puberty can be a time of change and transition. Tom Merton/Caiaimage/Getty Images
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Puberty is a normal phase of development that occurs when a child's body transitions into an adult body and readies for the possibility of reproduction. As kids enter puberty, they will have many questions about their bodies and parents will notice many physical and emotional changes.

Puberty is a transition that everyone goes through. It is a time of change during which the human body transforms from that of a child to the body of an adult. Hormones will cause different growth in boys and girls and can cause havoc with a young person's emotions and even their body and skin.

It may take 2 to 4 years before your tween's body fully transitions through puberty. Each child is going to develop at a different rate than their peers.

It can be difficult for kids to not compare themselves to their friends who are maturing faster than they are.

Puberty for Girls

Girls traditionally enter puberty earlier than boys and it's not uncommon for girls to begin showing signs as early as age 8 or 9. For most girls, menstruation may begin around the ages of 11 or 12.

Physical signs that a girl is entering puberty include growth spurts, breast development, underarm and pubic hair growth, facial acne, body odor, cramps, and menstruation.

Girls who show signs of puberty before the age of 8 may have precocious puberty. This is a treatable condition that should be evaluated by her pediatrician.

Puberty for Boys

For boys, the first signs of puberty are likely to occur around the ages of 11 or 12.

Physical signs that a boy is entering puberty include a deepening of the voice, muscle growth, pubic and underarm hair growth, acne, growth spurts, adult body odor, the growth of testicles and penis, wet dreams or the ability to ejaculate.

How to Help Your Kids During Puberty

Be aware of self-esteem issues. When children enter puberty earlier or later than their peers, they may be self-conscious, worried, or even depressed about their situation. These children may need help adjusting or learning how to cope.

  • In the case of children who are slow to enter puberty, provide encouragement and reassure them that their bodies will change when it's the right time.
  • For children who develop faster, ensure them that their friends will soon follow. They can even look at it positively and be able to help their friends when it's their time.

Be patient about mood swings. Some tweens transition smoothly through puberty, Others may experience moody behavior, bursts of anger or other emotional disturbances.

  • It's important to provide your child with as much information as possible about his or her changing body and for your child to understand why everyone's body changes. Find trusted resources that both you and your child can turn to for information and support.
  • Make yourself available to talk openly with your child about these changes when they need to.
  • Remember that sometimes a young teenager just wants to be left alone, too. Give them that space when they need it.

Be prepared for questions. Your child may feel comfortable enough to come to you when they have questions about their body's changes. If they are a little shy, bring it up in conversation so they know that you are there to help.

  • You don't have to take a crash course in human biology or give specifics. Use your own experience to give your child the advice they need.
  • When you first notice the signs of puberty, be ready with the personal hygiene supplies they will need. Stock teen-appropriate feminine products in the bathroom for your daughter's first period. Be ready with antiperspirant for your son when he starts to 'smell like a man' or acne products for his first breakout.
  • When it comes to sexual development, be open and honest when answering questions. Your son may be nervous about a wet dream and that's okay. You should be prepared with an appropriate answer to console them with every change.

Expect the unexpected. Quite often, questions about puberty can come out of the blue and surprise parents at what seems to be the worst time (preparing dinner or getting everyone ready in the morning).

If your child came to you, it's important to them. Take the time to address their concerns right away. If you're in shock, give yourself a minute to collect yourself.

Stop and sit down with your preteen, even if it's a quick chat. If you're late for work or have some other time constraint, console them the best you can, answer any immediate needs and pick the conversation up as soon as you are both available.

Don't put the conversation off any longer than absolutely necessary. You wouldn't want to leave your child with unwarranted worries through their entire school day or fretting for two days about something that's perfectly natural.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Physical Changes During Puberty.

  2. American Family Physician. Disorders of Puberty: An Approach to Diagnosis and Management.

  3. Cai H, Wu M, Luo YL, Yang J. Implicit self-esteem decreases in adolescence: a cross-sectional studyPLoS One. 2014;9(2):e89988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089988

  4. TeensHealth. Why Am I in Such a Bad Mood?

By Jennifer O'Donnell
Jennifer O'Donnell holds a BA in English and has training in specific areas regarding tweens, covering parenting for over 8 years.