Voice Changes for Boys During Puberty

Changes to Expect as a Boy Matures

Two young male friends chatting on park bench
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If your son's voice is cracking, he is experiencing the natural effects of male puberty. This time in a young man's life brings changes to his voice as well as his growth. Learn what to expect and why these changes happen.

How Puberty Affects the Voice

Your voice is produced when air is forcibly moved through your throat and vocal cords. Your mouth and tongue play a part in forming words, but it is your pair of vocal cords that influences how deep or how high the tone of your voice is.

These vocal cords, also know as vocal folds, are dual strips of cartilage and other tissues in the voice box (also called the larynx). The vocal folds vibrate to produce the basic sounds. You modify these sounds with your mouth to make words. The longer and thicker the vocal cords are, the lower pitched the sounds are.

At birth, boys’ and girls’ vocal folds are similar lengths, measuring about 2 millimeters long, but they continue to grow as the child grows. Girls' vocal folds grow 0.4 millimeters in length each year, but boy's vocal folds grow 0.7 millimeters in length for the same time period – almost twice as much.

This growth eventually slows down, leaving girls with a maximum vocal fold length of 10 millimeters and boys with a length of 16 millimeters. A longer vocal fold means a deeper voice, which is why males tend to have a deeper voice than girls.

Changes in the larynx are related to the increasing amounts of testosterone in boys during puberty. The increase in testosterone leads to a lengthening of the cartilage of the larynx and of the vocal folds, as well as the thickening of the vocal folds.

Thicker vocal folds lead to a change in the tone and the timbre of the voice—timbre being the quality or “color” of the voice. So when your son's voice cracks, blame it on testosterone and the growing pains of the vocal cords.

When to Expect Voice Changes

Voice changes do not happen in a vacuum. Increases in testosterone during puberty make many changes in the body, not just to the voice.

However, the timing of the voice changes during puberty is significant because it does so at a certain point during the overall changes that are occurring. Voice changes happen when boys are between Tanner stages 3 and 4.

The Tanner stages describe the physical changes in a boy's genitalia during puberty. Your doctor assesses your son's Tanner Stage, so feel free to ask where your son is at—puberty-wise—after his next checkup. It may give you an indication if a voice change is on the horizon.

The age at which voice changes begin varies widely between boys. Most often it begins between the ages of 12 and 13 and the changes are mostly complete after ages 15 to 18.

When your son's voice begins to change, this often marks the beginning of his “growth spurt.” This growth spurt is a time during adolescence where height increases rapidly.

Once your son's voice stops changing, his growth spurt starts to decrease. This process can last two to three years.

Coping With Voice Changes

Puberty, with its voice changes among other things, can be a stressful time for teens, but understanding more about the process can help everyone cope with the situation.

If he is concerned about how his voice sounds, you can reassure your son that the squeaks and changes are normal growing pains and that they won't last forever. The good news is that when his voice changes, he'll be getting the growth spurt he has been wishing for.

1 Source
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  1. Harries M, Hawkins S, Hacking J, Hughes I. Changes in the male voice at puberty: vocal fold length and its relationship to the fundamental frequency of the voice. J Laryngol Otol. 1998;112(5):451-4. doi:10.1017/s0022215100140757

Additional Reading
  • Voice Changes Throughout Life. National Center for Voice and Speech. http://www.ncvs.org/ncvs/tutorials/voiceprod/tutorial/changes.html
  • Kliegman, RM. et. al. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. Elsevier; 2016.
  • Neinstein LS, Katzman DK. Neinsteins Adolescent and Young Adult Health Care: a Practical Guide. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer; 2016.

By Barbara Poncelet
 Barbara Poncelet, CRNP, is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner specializing in teen health.