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Puberty - A Guide

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Puberty is when a child becomes sexually mature and transits from childhood to adulthood. To know more, read the article below.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sugreev Singh

Published At April 2, 2022
Reviewed AtNovember 1, 2023

What Is Puberty?

Puberty is a stage of life where young boys and girls experience the process of sexual maturation. It is a continuous process consisting of several stages or steps of physical, emotional, and hormonal changes. When puberty occurs, there will be a lot of changes to the physical appearance. Biological transformations and psychological and emotional development also take place. The end result of puberty is to achieve fertility and attain a complete development of secondary sexual characteristics.

What Causes the Onset of Puberty in Boys and Girls?

The exact onset of puberty in boys and girls is not completely understood. One of many theories suggests that puberty begins when a boy or girl reaches a particular critical weight or body composition. Another study has found that a hormone known as leptin, produced in our body by the adipocytes (fat cells), has a role in initiating puberty. The leptin hormone generally increases in boys and girls just before puberty. Researchers have also said that girls who have an increased level of leptin hormone have an increased body fat percentage and undergo the early onset of puberty.

Leptin is one of the factors that makes the hypothalamus release another hormone known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). The GnRH hormone, in turn, signals the pituitary gland to start releasing two other hormones, namely, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). These two hormones are very important as they regulate the production of estrogen and progesterone and thereby ensure sexual development.

What Is the Normal Age of Puberty in Boys and Girls?

The onset of puberty depends upon each individual, and it varies from one person to another. However, the most common age for puberty in girls is between 10 years to 14 years. Similarly, the age group is a little later in boys, that is between 12 years to 16 years.

Though these are the common age groups, there are many cases where puberty in girls starts early, during the age of 8. Recent studies have shown that our diet choices, environmental conditions, and nutritional influences adversely affect the onset of puberty during these developing times. In order to support this fact, studies have been conducted, and the findings show that the average age of onset of menstrual periods was 15 during the 1900s, whereas the average age fell down to almost 12 and a half during the 1990s.

What Physical Changes Occur in the Body During Puberty in Boys and Girls?

During puberty, the body undergoes a series of physical changes, which are typical in both boys and girls. The changes have a sequence of events that is predictable in most cases. Physicians often refer to these stages or steps of puberty as tanner stages (TS) or sexual maturity rating (SMR).

Boys:

  • The first physical change observed in boys is the increase in the size of testicles. This usually occurs around the age of 11 and half years and lasts for another six to seven months.

  • Following the increase in the size of the testicle, the penis also increases in size. These changes usually occur before developing pubic hair in most boys.

  • Then, pubic hair and armpit hairs start to develop.

  • After this stage, boys will notice a deeper voice, and the muscles begin to increase in size.

  • The last stage of puberty in boys is the development of facial hair.

  • Regarding fertility, it is achieved in males during the early stage of puberty. A sudden surge in the level of testosterone triggers sperm production.

Girls:

  • In most girls, the first physical change that occurs due to puberty is the starting of breast development. This usually occurs during the age of 11.

  • This early stage of breast development is called breast buds, and they continue to grow over the next few years before reaching their full shape and size.

  • Next, the growth of pubic hairs typically starts after the start of breast development. This is then followed by the development of hair in the armpit.

  • A very small percentage of girls start to develop pubic hair before breast development.

  • Girls get their first menstrual cycle almost 2 and a half years after the onset of puberty and are considered the last of all physical changes associated with puberty.

  • The achievement of fertility corresponds to a regular pattern of ovulation. In general, girls usually tend to achieve regular ovulation during the age of 13.

Certain changes happen in the body during puberty. They are:

1. Weight Changes - Puberty leads to changes in body composition and weight. In adolescent girls, the fat percentage increases on the upper and lower portions of the body and produces a curvy appearance. Boys also have an increase in body fat, but the muscle growth is too fast, so they appear more toned than girls.

2. Growth Spurt - Puberty is usually associated with a rapid increase in height. They usually last for two to three years. Statistically speaking, almost 20 % of the adult height is reached during puberty. In girls, the onset of the growth spurt is earlier by two years when compared to boys.

3. Bone Growth - Puberty is also associated with increased bone density. Studies have identified that the width of the bone gets increased first, followed by bone mineral level, and finally, the bone density. Due to the interim gap between the time of bone growth and achieving full bone density, adolescents are at a higher risk of bone fractures.

What Are the Emotional Changes That Occur during Puberty in Boys and Girls?

Puberty is a complex process involving physical, emotional, and biological changes. Emotional differences also occur during adolescence. These changes might not be the same for all adolescents and may include the following:

  • Confusion.

  • Mood swings.

  • Anxiety.

  • Being self-conscious.

  • High sensitivity.

Emotional development or change during puberty is not only associated with negative thoughts or feeling upset. However, they are also associated with positive changes that help people find their own happiness and relate to other people's feelings. The changes in physical characteristics might boost a person's confidence and change their approach towards others.

What Are the Conditions Associated With Normal Puberty?

Puberty is a natural phase of everyone's life, but certain illnesses or medical conditions appear during puberty. Though they are not usually severe, they might be a cause for concern in certain cases. Some of these conditions include:

  • Anemia.

  • Acne.

  • Gynecomastia.

  • Scoliosis.

  • Vision changes.

  • Dysfunctional uterine bleeding.

  • Musculoskeletal injuries.

Conclusion:

Puberty is a natural process, and it is perfectly normal for both the children and the parent to be anxious about it. Various healthcare professionals guide the children and their parents to help them overcome the anxiety about this stage of life. In addition, the onset of puberty might differ from one person to another, but if any severe conditions cause an extensive delay or early onset of puberty, it is important to reach out to your doctor to get medical attention.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Five Stages of Puberty Are There?

The five stages of puberty are listed below:
- In the initial stage, there are no visible signs of growth.
- Stage two represents the beginning of physical growth.
- Stage three reveals increased height and more noticeable physical appearance changes.
- Stage four demonstrates when puberty takes off.
- Stage five represents the completion of physical and height growth.

2.

What Is the Puberty Gulu Guide?

Gulu is an entertaining handbook to puberty for boys that offers solutions to all inquiries on physical changes, feelings, consent, and bullying. In an age-appropriate and culturally sensitive approach, issues like physical attraction, masturbation, addiction, and periods—which boys are too timid to discuss—are also addressed.

3.

What Three Types of Puberty Exist?

Precocious and delayed puberty are two categories based on when it starts. Delayed puberty begins much later than 13 or does not appear to develop through puberty. Puberty starting significantly earlier than seven years old is precocious puberty. Precocious puberty can come in three different forms for children:
- Peripheral precocious puberty results from problems with the reproductive organs,
- Incomplete puberty with few symptoms, and
- Central precocious puberty from brain tumors or trauma.

4.

Is It Alright to Enter Puberty at 12 Years of Age?

It is natural for girls to enter puberty between the ages of eight and thirteen and for boys to do so between the ages of nine and fourteen. Puberty typically does not begin around the average age, but if it begins before the age of eight or has not begun by the time you are fourteen, one should consult a doctor.

5.

What Stage of Puberty Is the Most Difficult?

The first few years of puberty, which normally begin at age 14, are usually the most difficult. As the child may experience mental transformations and begin to explore their sexuality at this point, parents must accompany their child. Parents have to deal with regular parent-child conflict and instability.

6.

Is Puberty Painful?

During the first few years of puberty, breast enlargement is common in children, and they may frequently experience a bump under one or both nipples that feels like a button, a breast sore, or uncomfortable. As they get taller, some young people have aches and pains in their muscles and legs that disappear independently. Some young people may feel fatigued, have stomach aches, and have painful muscles and joints.

7.

When Does Puberty End?

The puberty ends in Tanner’s puberty stage five. For girls, puberty lasts for five to six years before ending. Most people begin puberty between the ages of eight and sixteen. This indicates that between the ages of 14 and 16, puberty ends. 

8.

Which Hormone Triggers Puberty?

The gonadotropin-releasing hormone, released by the hypothalamus at the start of puberty, prompts the pituitary gland to release luteinizing and follicle-stimulating hormones. These hormones cause the sex organ to release sex hormones, which marks the start of puberty.

9.

Does Going Through Puberty Make You Taller?

Throughout childhood, height increases on average by six centimeters per year. Then, a stage of steady growth occurs right before puberty. Approximately eight centimeters per year, more growth occurs once puberty begins. Boys' growth spurts typically last longer than females'.

10.

Is Puberty a Challenging Time?

Teenagers go through a lot of changes during puberty, which eventually come to an end when the body has fully matured. Teenagers may find the various stages of puberty difficult or even unclear, and each person experiences these changes at a different pace.

11.

Can You Delay Reaching Puberty?

A delay in puberty is referred to as delayed puberty. This indicates that by the age of twelve for girls and fourteen for boys, a child's bodily signs of sexual maturity have yet to appear. This includes changes to the voice, pubic hair, and breast development, which are secondary sexual characteristics.

12.

What Can One Do to Get To Puberty Sooner?

The methods for achieving puberty more quickly include keeping a healthy weight, regularly consuming iron, calcium, protein, fat, and zinc, and using hormone treatments. The natural approaches to reaching puberty are maintaining good health by eating wholesome meals, engaging in physical activity through sports, maintaining a positive outlook by accepting reality and appreciating the moment, and getting enough sleep.

13.

When Do Boys’ Growth Spurts End?

Around the age of 16, most boys' growth usually ends. In their later adolescent years, some males may continue to grow by another inch, and their muscles will continue to develop until adulthood. A lot of factors can influence how tall someone grows. These include genetics, nutrition, and levels of physical activity, as well as environmental influences. 

14.

When Do Girls’ Growth Spurts End?

Throughout birth and childhood, girls grow quickly. When girls hit adolescence, their growth picks back up significantly. By 14 or 15 years old, or a few years following the onset of menstruation, girls often stop growing and reach adult height.

15.

After Periods, Can Girls Still Develop?

During the growth spurt, girls expand by about eight centimeters per year. Approximately two years after starting their menstrual cycle, girls often cease growing taller. During this time, the genes will control a wide range of characteristics, including body weight, breast size, height, and even the amount of body hair.
Dr. Sugreev Singh
Dr. Sugreev Singh

Internal Medicine

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