Signs of Puberty: What to Expect

85As adults, many of us look back on our own experiences with puberty with heartfelt sentiment, remembering how confusing and challenging it was as our mind and bodies began to change. Now as parents, we have sons and daughters approaching that “certain age” and maybe even already exhibiting some signs of puberty. It was hard enough navigating through these changes the first time! Thankfully, there are resources available that can help us learn what to expect.

Most of us know the basics of what to look for when puberty starts to begin in our own children. Usually, there’s hair growth in new places, menstruation starts for girls, stronger body odor in both males and females, deepened voices in boys, and breast growth for girls. Scientifically, the change happens in the section of the brain called the hypothalamus. A gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) starts to be released, traveling to the pituitary gland which releases two more puberty hormones called luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). When does this occur? Usually, the hormone boost happens around the age of 8 for girls and 9 – 10 for boys.

Here are the next changes to watch for in your child, depending on gender:

Boys . Once these hormones are released and travel through the bloodstream, their first stop is the testes (testicles) giving the hint to a boy’s body that it’s now okay to begin the production of sperm and testosterone. As time progresses, you’ll notice changes physically between the ages of 10-16. His arms, legs, hands and feet will grow faster than the rest of his body and you’ll notice broader shoulders and increased weight and muscle mass. Nipple soreness in boys is normal, happens in about half of boys going through puberty, and usually only lasts 6 months. Also during this time a boy’s voice will crack, indicating that puberty is in full force!

During puberty a boy will notice dark, coarse hair start to grow under his arms and by the penis and scrotum. The penis and testes will grow, erections will occur more frequently, and ejaculation (the release of sperm-containing semen) can also occur (sometimes while sleeping). At this time, many boys become concerned about penis size, wondering if they are normal. As a parent, it’s important to let him know that everyone develops differently and in different stages.

Girls. For our daughters, hormones travel to the ovaries to kick off puberty. This triggers the maturation and release of eggs and produces estrogen, helping to establish the female body and prepare her for pregnancy. Quite often, the first indication that your daughter may be starting puberty is breast development, usually around the age of 9-10. You’ll notice that buds, or nipples, are starting to form and at that point it may be time to visit the department store for her first bra.

Hair similar in appearance to what boys experience will also start to grow around the labia and later, hair will appear under her arms. Within a year or two, your daughter will experience a growth spurt, building up fat in hips, thighs, and her arms, legs, feet and hands will get bigger too. Her first period (menstruation) will be the concluding event and this usually happens between the ages of 9 and 16.

Concerns about Puberty

The changes that occur in both males and females alike may seem overwhelming, so it’s important to have a continued channel of communication happening between parent and child during puberty…and even beforehand. During a time when a child’s emotions are new and hard to explain, it’s also a time their bodies are changing. Acne may occur, hampering their self-confidence, and usually it’s the first time the opposite-sex is becoming more noticeable.

Prepare yourself to talk about menstruation with your daughter and make sure she is prepared with a “readiness kit” in her backpack in case it happens while she’s at school. Talk to your son about shaving, show him the ropes, and make sure both your son or daughter understand the importance of washing regularly and in the right places.

As boys and girls begin to notice their bodies change, and notice each other, make sure you answer their questions honestly and to the best of your ability. If you need direction on what to say, Dr. Shaw, Dr. Kellow and the Association of Childcare Physicians can help both you and your child navigate the unknown during this transition, making it a positive experience to remember.

Our doctors and staff respect your time and always aim to keep scheduled appointment times with very little wait. If you’re looking for a pediatrician in the Metro East Illinois or St. Louis area, or if you are considering changing your pediatric practice affiliation, you have the option to schedule a “Meet and Greet” visit – at no cost to you – to meet with Dr. Kellow or Dr. Shaw. Call the Association of Childcare Physicians today at 618-235-2311 to schedule a “Meet and Greet” appointment or visit us online at