You probably have already heard stories from friends and relatives about that time in a child’s life called puberty. Some of the things you hear may seem quite humorous while others may leave you feeling more than a bit anxious. Added to that are some of the stories you see and hear playing out in the media about teens going through puberty.

As you watch your own child face this important stage in his or her life, it’s important to recognize that your child’s body will be experiencing many important changes in moving toward young adulthood. Our purpose here is to help you sort out some of the facts about this time when your child starts to become sexually mature so that you both can feel more comfortable about discussing the changes that are taking place. Remember that your help and support as your child is experiencing these major changes is extremely important.

What's Normal?

We’ve all heard about the teen years being driven by “raging hormones.” In fact chemicals called hormones begin to excrete from the pituitary gland during this time and these hormones cause physical transformations in the body. They also are responsible for the fluctuations in mood and emotions. Every child can expect to go through these changes although the changes will be experienced differently for girls and boys.

For a quick overview of physical changes to expect during this important time in your child’s life, check out the What’s Up fact sheet provided by the Washington State Department of Health. You might also want to consult the What’s Up fact sheet about emotional development for some important added information about what you might expect.


Puberty begins at different ages for boys and girls on average, although is slight variation among authorities as to the ages at which it begins. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development tells us that puberty is a physical change that usually happens between the ages of 10 and 14 for girls and 12 and 16 for boys. The American Academy of Family Physicians on the other hand states that puberty begins for girls between 8 and 14 years; for boys the average is between 9 and 14 years.

The first sign of puberty in most girls is breast development. Other signs are the growth of hair in the pubic area and armpits. Also acne may start to appear. Menstruation usually happens last.

For boys the first sign is an increase in the size of the testicles. The penis will start to get bigger. Another sign is that hair starts to grow in the pubic area and armpits. Muscles grow, the voice gets deeper. Later acne and facial hair start to show up.

As you look for signs of puberty and try to anticipate what’s going to happen next as your child develops, we encourage to check out the information about Stages of Puberty offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics on its Healthy Children website.

It’s important to remember that some children can develop according to different patterns. The American Academy of Family Physicians tell us that some girls develop breasts at a very young age but have no other signs of sexual development. A few children may have pubic or armpit hair yet show no other signs of sexual growth for a long time. This organization of physicians encourages you to contact your doctor with any questions you might have.


If a young girl develops breasts and pubic hair before the ages of 7 or 8 or if a young boy has an increase in testicle or penis size before age 9, you may want to check with your doctor. In most cases the American Academy of Family Physicians.tells us that early puberty is just a variation of normal puberty. However, in a few cases, there may be a medical reason.

Delayed puberty is also an issue that the American Academy of Family Physicians addresses on its website. Among the signs for girls are no development in breast tissue by age 14 and no periods for 5 years or more after the appearance of breast tissue. Signs for boys include no testicle development by age 14 and development of the male organs isn’t complete by 5 years after they first start to develop. Again, you are encouraged to visit your doctor to discuss your concerns.

For more information on early puberty or what’s also called precocious puberty see the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Healthy Children website. Also check out American Academy of Pediatrics website. for more information on delayed puberty.


Girls and boys each have their own special concerns about puberty. Be aware of those concerns and be prepared to discuss them with your child. Your child needs your help and support throughout this very important time in her/his life.

A major concern for girls at this time is menstruation. Help your daughter prepare for her first period so that she understands what’s happening and why it’s happening. You’ll also want to discuss what she can expect to happen when she has a period, and how to handle hygiene issues related to the menstrual cycle. Assure her that she can take place in all her normal activities when she’s menstruating.

Girls also have concerns about breast development during puberty. For example, one breast usually begins to develop before the other. Girls need to be reassured that that this is part of normal development. If breasts start to develop relatively early, your daughter may feel very self conscious. Support her clothing choices if she prefers loose fitting clothing and/or asks you to purchase a training bra for her. For more about girls concerns, see The American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website.

Boys’ concerns about puberty range from voice change to wet dreams and involuntary erections. It’s important that your son understands why these changes are taking place. What’s causing his voice to crack at the most inopportune times? Why might he wake up in the morning with pajamas and sheets that are damp? Why is he getting these involuntary erections spontaneously? He needs to be assured that these unexpected happenings in his life are perfectly normal and just a part of growing up. For more about boys’ concerns, go to the American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website.


Media Issues

This can be a difficult and confusing time for your child. Not only is your child dealing with her/his developing body, s/he is also now beginning to grapple with sexual feelings. With heightened sexual interest, where might your child easily turn to explore information and find models for sexuality? In many homes, the answer can be readily found in the media.

American children and teens spend more than 7 hours/day with a variety of different media. These media are bombarding them with sexual messages. Just as an example, more than 75% of prime-time TV programs contain sexual content. Talk about sex on TV can occur as often as 8-10 times per hour. Almost every R-rated teen movie since the 1980s has contained at least 1 nude scene and often several instances of sexual intercourse. Teen magazines have been found to devote an average of 2 to 5 pages per issue to sexual topics and, of course, there’s the Internet which contains a wealth of sexual information, and the ads that use sex to sell products.

Media cannot be considered purely a source of entertainment. Numerous studies have shown that media can have a major effect on the attitudes and behaviors of our children. New evidence now available is even suggesting that the media adolescents use frequently can be an important factor in contributing to early initiation of sexual activity. In other study findings, early maturing girls demonstrated more interest in seeing sexual content than the later maturing girls. In fact these girls were also more likely to interpret the messages they saw in the media as approving of teens having sexual intercourse.

The Washington State Department of Health’s What’s Up fact sheet addressing emotional development points out some issues that are often of concern for parents. At this time in your child’s development there is a preoccupation with physical changes and anxieties about the physical signs of puberty. Teens can become very critical of their appearance and try to devote increased attention to improving their appearance. Yet, at this same time, of course, the media, are constantly bombarding your child with innumerable suggestions and role models demonstrating what can be done to improve appearance. What kind of influence is this having on our young girls?

Approximately 40% of the 9- and 10-year-old girls in one study examining weight issues in preadolescent girls reported that they were trying to lose weight. Those studying eating disorders among adolescents have been very concerned about the media’s role. As two of these researchers conclude, “current mass media is ubiquitous and powerful, leading to increased body dissatisfaction among both men and women.” They suggest that parents need to limit children’s exposure to media, promote healthy eating and moderate physical activity, and encourage participation in activities that increase mastery and self-esteem.

Others writing about the media’s influence have become very concerned about the way in which our children are becoming highly sexualized at an early age. Diane Levin and Jean Kilbourne address this issue in their book, So Sexy, So Soon. Check out an overview of the book. The authors offer parents a variety of ideas and strategies for parents of both boys and girls wanting to find ways of dealing with the highly sexualized media bombarding their children and influencing them in both subtle and not so subtle ways, ranging from their choice of clothing to their behavior.



While others may give your child lots of new information about puberty(i.e. often peers will readily volunteer their own views of what’s happening as well as what to expect in the future), no one can really take your place at this very important time. You are your child’s most important teacher and your child needs to be able to come to you to discuss questions and concerns.

Let your children know you care and understand that this can be a difficult period in their lives. Show them through your actions and words that you are there to try to listen and be supportive. Keep the top 10 tips parents have offered well in mind. Use these tips as your guide as you and your child navigate this challenging period. If you don’t feel as though you have all the information you would like to have for these discussions, remember there are resources to help you both. Check the resources we offer below to help you get started.



What’s Up Information Sheets
Here is a listing of all the fact sheets entitled What’s Up Information for Adults Who Care about Teens. These fact sheets produced by the Washington State Department of Health offer a quick overview of key issues to consider for each of a number of subjects of concern for parents. Subjects range from physical growth and development to emotional development and talking and listening to teens. Each of these helpful fact sheets can be easily downloaded in PDF version for later reference.

Get Net Wise
The resources on this website help parents educate themselves and their children about Online safety. Information is provided about filtering software and web sites considered safe for children and teens Check out this site to see their large online collection of instructional how-to video tutorials designed to show parents how to keep online experiences safe and secure. Instructional videos range from setting your search engine to filter pornography in its search results to activating your computer's security settings.

Bright Futures Tip Sheets
Bright Futures is a national initiative that addresses children's health needs in the context of family and community. These tip sheets developed by Bright Futures cover a wide range of topics from the stages of adolescence to talking to your teen about the hard issues.

What to Expect and When to Seek Help: Social & Emotional Development in Adolescence, Ages 11-21 Years
This helpful tool developed by Bright Futures provides some quick checklists that can serve as guide when you’re trying to determine what you can expect, what you can do to help and when you should seek help. Issues that are covered range from feelings, risky behavior, and body image and eating behaviors to sex and sexuality.

Facts for Families, Normal Adolescent Development
These quick facts for parents have been developed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. You will also find reference to other useful information about adolescents on this site.

Kids Health
This site developed by the Nemours Foundation contains information for both you and your teen. One section of the site is dedicated just to parents’ concerns while a different section is devoted to speaking directly to your child about his/her questions and concerns.