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A Complete Guide to Puberty & Why Parents Need to Understand It Better

Let's start with the definition provided by Medilexicon's medical dictionary.

"Puberty is a Sequence of events by which a child becomes a young adult, characterized by the beginning of gonadotropin secretion, gametogenesis, secretion of gonadal hormones, development of secondary sexual characteristics and reproductive functions; sexual dimorphism is accentuated. In girls, the first signs of normal puberty may be evident after age 8 with the process largely completed by age 16; in boys, normal puberty commonly begins at age 9 and is largely completed by age 18. Ethnic and geographic factors may influence the time at which various events typical of puberty occur."

This article will provide a detailed explanation of what puberty is, when and why does it occur in human beings and why parents need to have a sound knowledge of it.

What is Puberty ?

As the aforementioned definition says, puberty is a period in an individual's life when he or she experiences a physical as well as mental transformation from being a child to becoming an adult who can reproduce.

Their bodies as well as their behavior undergo some significant changes and these changes continue until they reach a certain age when the puberty stops and the transformation is complete. This age is usually around 14 or 15 for girls and 16 or 17 for boys.

Why does Puberty Occur?

Well, it's a natural process which happens to every normal human being. However, if we go according to the medical terms and reasons, there could be 3 main reasons behind it.

  1. Genes- According to experts, a single gene named KiSS1 is responsible for triggering puberty in human beings. It is present in our bodies since birth and is also responsible for producing another gene called GPR54 which gets activated by KiSS1 during puberty.

  2. Hormones- The two main hormones - testosterone in both men and women and estradiol in females are responsible for the physical changes like growth of body parts including muscle, hair, testicles, penis, female breasts and other such changes.

  3. External factors- It is also believed that external environmental factors like food and toxins could trigger an early puberty. Especially among girls, where in many cases it has been seen that obesity is responsible for the early onset of puberty.

Male Puberty

Puberty in boys usually starts at the age of 10-11 and spans 5-6 years till the age of 17-18. Since a boy undergoes the transformation to become a man, there are many visible as well as internal changes which are experienced by his body.

  1. Growth of reproductive organs- Puberty triggers the growth of reproductive organs like testicles, penis and scrotum. Both the penis and the testicles grow and lengthen while the scrotum begins to thin.

  2. Random erections- Boys will experience random erections which can happen without any sexual thoughts. It's a part of puberty.

  3. Wet dreams- Another common phenomena during puberty. Ejaculation during sleep, commonly known as wet dreams is experienced by boys undergoing puberty and this may happen without a sexual dream.

  4. Deepening Of Voice- The larynx and the vocal chords undergo changes and they crack which leads to deepening of voice in boys.

  5. Growth of breasts and hair- Boys may undergo some growth in breasts during puberty which is a part of a phenomenon known as gynecomastia or pubertal gynecomastia which causes a bump beneath the nipples. This usually fades away after puberty is over.

    Hair growth around body parts like arms, legs, face(growth of beard) and the pubic region also occurs when boys undergo puberty.

  6. Mood swingsSince there are many mental and emotional changes which accompany puberty, mood swings in boys of age 11-15 are pretty normal and parents should not get disturbed by it. Sudden feelings of anger and distress are a part of this process and happens to every boy going through this phase of life.

Female Puberty

Girls usually start puberty one or two years before boys do and also complete it earlier than them. Like it happens in men, women also undergo some significant changes during this phase, the most important of them being the start of menstrual cycle.

  1. Growth in sex organs- The main changes happen in the clitoris, a small part above the genitals and the uterus. Both of them grow in size.

  2. Menstruation- The start of periods marks the beginning of puberty for a girl. It means that she is now capable of bearing a child.

  3. Breast Enlargement- The breasts of a girl start to grow during puberty. Like in men, girls also may feel a lump below the nipples which is a normal phenomenon.

  4. Changes in body shape- A girl's body undergoes more significant visible changes as compared to boys. Her hips and stomach grow and gain extra fat. Also other parts of the body undergo similar development and increase in size.

    Hair growth happens in the pubic region and under arms and legs. Overall, the growth of different body parts in a girl during puberty is a completely normal process and they should not feel embarrassed about it.

  5. Emotional changes- The changes in hormone levels cause the girl's emotions to change randomly but mostly when she has her periods. She could get irritated at small things and could be extremely eccentric in her behavior during that time.

    Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

    Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition which many girls can experience before menstruation and it involves excessive emotional outbursts and strong changes. This can be treated with the help of medication, physical exercise or talk therapy.

    Role of Parents

    The role of parents is very important when a child undergoes puberty. If they are there for him/her at that time and explain things in a calm manner then it goes a long way in building the confidence of the child.

    Although puberty is a natural phenomenon and parents are aware of it, they still can't understand why their child becomes rash and impulsive in his teens and why he isn't ready to listen to anything they have to say. Many parents fail to accept the natural emotional changes their child is going through and begin to blame him for being disobedient and disrespectful.

    Parents need to understand that the erratic changes in the behavior is a part of the development process and the change in hormones cause it. So the child isn't always in control of their mood swings and irrational behavior. This is the time when parents and elders have to be patient and understanding.

    It is also critical to impart the right education to child when he is undergoing puberty. Although children are smart now-a-days, some of them may have difficulty accepting that wet dreams, random erections without sexual thoughts, vaginal discharge and onset of menstruation is completely natural.

    They usually try to figure out things on their own and don't talk to their parents about it. Parents need to communicate and explain them that they don't need to worry about such things. Proper communication is extremely important during this phase and it contributes to the overall growth of your child as an aware and responsible human being.

    Parent son image credit - tacit requiem

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