Puberty in teenagers


Remember when your child was a baby, and seemed to change almost every day? Well, the teenage years are like babyhood - the physical changes of puberty in children are remarkable, and fast. In fact, infancy and adolescence are unique in human development, at no other stage in life do our bodies change so much, so quickly.

What changes are we talking about?

Girls (ages 10-15)
  • body fat increases
  • breasts enlarge
  • become taller and heavier
  • skin and hair become more greasy
  • develop underarm and pubic hair
  • hips widen
Boys (ages 10-15)
  • testicles increase in size
  • become taller and heavier
  • develop facial, underarm and pubic hair
  • muscles develop
  • voices deepen

In general, girls change physically earlier than boys, so a girl of 12 might look a lot older than a boy of the same age. This Mumsnetter says: "My 12-year-old is still very much a boy. His 13-year-old brother is definitely a young man - gobby and a bit smelly but a young man! I read somewhere that boys' feet increase in size before a growth spurt so that may be the first sign."

Brain changes during puberty

The brain continues to develop through adolescence. Changes in levels of some neurotransmitter chemicals (eg dopamine and serotonin) make teenagers more emotional and more likely to be stressed.

It may also make them more prone to boredom and risk-taking.

The front of the brain, or prefrontal cortex, is one of the last areas to develop. It's used for planning and anticipating the consequences of our actions - hence adolescents sometimes having problems working out the long-term impact of some of their behaviour.

Teenagers are often frustrating people to be around, but understanding that this isn't their fault, that they're affected by big chemical, mood-affecting changes, can be helpful to you, both in your dealings with your teen, and in helping you cope with what you've got on your own plate. 

How teenagers are affected by the changes going on in their bodies

  • They need more sleep
  • They're sometimes clumsy, because of growth spurts and physical changes
  • They're very aware of their peers and often worry that they're not changing at the same rate as those around them
  • They become very sensitive about their weight and how they look
  • They reassess physical contact, especially with opposite-sex parents and siblings, and may be less keen on kisses and overt displays of affection with you and other family members

What parents should (and shouldn't) do 

In general, the most important thing you can do is to try to understand what your teenager is going through when he or she is going through puberty. Seeing the world from your teen's point of view really can make all the difference.

Teenagers can be frustrating and difficult people to be around, all the more so when they're your precious children, and when you desperately hope things will turn out well for them.

  • Try to keep a sense of perspective - don't allow them to pull you into their neuroses, if you can possibly help it. So don't criticise or comment on their shape or their weight or their spots. If they come to you to talk about it, fine; otherwise, keep quiet. They're already hyper-sensitive about what others are thinking. Your views will only stoke the raging fires of their worry and self-doubt.
  • Being a boring parent can be the best way to deal with a going-through-the-mill adolescent. Remind them, for example, that it really is important to get enough sleep and to eat well. It's brilliant advice: and while they'll appear to shrug it off and do nothing about it, somewhere, somehow, the message might get through.
  • Be patient about excessive grooming - teenagers tend to be very worried about how they look, and often inhabit the bathroom for long periods of time. Recognise that this is all part of the voyage to adulthood; accept that your teenager may get more out of getting ready to go to that much-heralded party than she does from actually being there.

Last updated: about 3 years ago