What is puberty?
Puberty is the time when the body changes from that of a child to that of an adult. These changes are brought about by chemicals in the body called hormones.
Changes in Girls
Puberty is the time when a girl becomes physically able to have babies. Puberty generally happens earlier in a girl than it does in a boy, commonly between 9 and 13 years of age. This is the reason why girls may be taller and may act more mature than boys for a few years until the boys catch up. The following changes take place in the body:
Breasts: The breasts start to develop, and small, tender lumps appear under one or both nipples that get bigger over the next few years. It is common for one breast to be larger than the other initially. Later they even out as they reach their final size and shape. Girls, therefore, need to wear a bra, an experience that may be exciting as well as embarrassing in the beginning.
Hair: Soft, curly hair grow in the pubic area, the area between the legs. Hair also appear under the arms and on the legs.
Body shape: Hips become wider and the body begins to deposit fat on the stomach, buttocks, and the legs. This gives the woman's body a more curvaceous shape.
Skin: The skin may get more oily and sweats more. Pimples may appear and are called acne.
Menstruation: Menstrual "periods" begin in most girls between 9 and 16 years of age. During the menstrual period a blood-like fluid flows out of the vagina. This is a monthly discharge and requires a girl to wear some kind of sanitary pad or tampon to absorb this fluid and keep it from soiling the clothes. Pads have adhesive strips and are worn inside the panties. Tampons are placed inside the vagina.
In the beginning the periods are irregular and scanty or heavy. Later they become regular. Most periods last from 3 to 7 days. After the period, there may be a day or two of light bleeding, called spotting. This is normal.
If bleeding occurs regularly between periods, the doctor must be consulted. Menstrual periods do not necessarily limit ones activities like swimming, sports, riding, or gym classes. Exercises help get rid of other discomforts that may be present during the periods. These include:
- soreness or swelling in the breasts
- sudden mood changes or irritability
Changes in Boys
Puberty in boys starts with a growth spurt between 10 to 16 years of age. The following are some changes that occur:
Body shape: The boy gets taller and the shoulders get broader. There is a significant weight gain. Some boys may notice a swelling under their nipples that may arouse fears that they are growing breasts. This is a temporary condition but if it persists or causes serious concern, a paediatrician must be consulted. Muscles in the body become bigger and stronger.
Voice: The voice starts to crack. With further growth, the cracking stops and the voice becomes deeper.
Hair: Hair appear under the arms, on the legs and face, and in the pubic region just above the penis.
Skin: The skin may become more oily and sweating is more. Pimples may appear and are called acne.
Penis: The penis becomes larger and both testes also increase in size. Penile erections begin to occur more often as a result of an increase in male sex hormones (testosterone). During erections the penis gets stiff and hard. This is normal even though it may sometimes cause embarrassment. Often there are concerns about the penis size; when parents compare the size of their son's penis with that of another child. It is important to remember that the size of the penis varies greatly and the size has nothing to do with a person's manliness or sexual functioning.
The testes also begin to produce sperms. This means that during an erection, ejaculation may occur. In this the semen (made up of sperm and other fluids) is released through the penis. This could also happen during sleep, called a nocturnal emission or "wet dream." This is completely normal and will decrease as one gets older.
Emotional changes during puberty
Besides the many physical changes that occur during puberty, many emotional changes take place as well. Relationships with others may begin to change. Children begin to separate more from parents and identify with other children of the same age. Children begin to feel self-conscious about their bodies and the way they look. Comparisons begin with self and other children. One must remember that everyone goes through puberty at a different pace and eventually, everyone catches up. During this time, children also become more aware of their sexuality.
Touching or playing with one’s sex organs for sexual pleasure is called masturbation. It is a normal activity and does not cause any harm. Not all boys and girls masturbate. The frequency of masturbation or for how long one has been masturbating has no bearing on ones ultimate sexual potential. It is perfectly natural to be interested in sex. The sexual urges that one feels during puberty can be very powerful. It is important to stay in control of these feelings and not let them lead one astray.