Current research questions whether the influences of puberty on teens are as strong as once believed. Have the effects of puberty been overstated? While it is true that puberty impacts some adolescents more acutely than others, as a whole, puberty is a less-dramatic event for teens.
Before we go any further in this article, let’s agree on what is puberty. It is a biological change that children go through that causes bodily changes as well as emotional changes. It also includes maturation of thinking and moral development, in ways that teens view themselves and others.
While puberty is occurring at an alarmingly earlier age in children, puberty typically begins within the ages of 8 and 13 for girls and 9 and 14 for boys. If it occurs before the age of 8 for girls, and 9 for boys, it is considered early (precocious) development. Puberty is considered delayed if it has not begun before the age of 13 for girls and 14 years for boys.
First signs of puberty for girls (average age of 10) is breast budding and later breast development. This change is followed by pubic hair growth and arm-pit hair. The first menstrual period (menarche) occurs usually around 12 years old. However, menarche is progressing earlier in some girls, particularly in African-American girls There is a growth spurt during puberty and the girls will reach a final adult height about two years after menarche. Weight gain and widening of the pelvic area are also noted. Puberty, as a completed process, takes 3-to-4 years.
Puberty begins later for boys. The average age of puberty onset is around 11 years old. The first noted development is increase in size of the testicles. This is later followed by growth in pubic hair, as well as axillary hair, arm-pit, chest, and facial. Deepening of the male’s voice is also noted. Growth in muscle mass, and the ability to get erections and ejaculate (especially nocturnal emissions, “wet dreams”) occurs and this and other processes of sexual maturation happens over a 3-to-4 year span.
Puberty is also associated with adolescents to have increase perspiration, body odor, and acne. It is important for the reader to understand that there may be wide variation in the onset and progression of puberty.
As in other studies of human growth and development, stress may be associated with bodily changes, puberty is no exception. However, have the puberty effects been exaggerated? Current research indicates that the vast majority of teens cope with these stresses effectively. Among the many questions posed to hundreds of teens in my research (2010) several questions dealt with their views on puberty. Let’s “hear” what teens had to say.
Was the onset of puberty a problem for you?
1. Yes – 2. No
Males: 1. 7% – 2. 93%
Females: 1. 7% – 2. 93%
Would you describe the onset of puberty as arriving:
1. Came too early – 2. Average – 3. Too late
Males: 1. 7% – 2. 91% – 3. 2%
Females: 1.18% – 2. 78% – 3. 4%
If puberty came too early for you, did it create unwanted attention from your peers/
others of the opposite sex?
1. Yes – 2. No
Males: 1. 26% – 2. 74%
Females: 1. 58% – 2. 42%
Clearly form my sample of teens, puberty was not viewed as troublesome, traumatic or a problem for our teens. Male and female respondents were exactly the same in their responses.
More females reported that they perceived puberty arriving too early than males, by a two-to-one margin, and females felt that too early (precocious) created a problem for them by again, a two-to-one margin.
Most adults seem to place a negative view of the onset of puberty for their teens and fear the consequences of puberty and are quick to ascribe negative behaviors of their teens to the onset of puberty.
Finally, recent research strongly suggests that puberty has less-dramatic effects for most teens than is commonly thought. Of course, parents need to counsel their children and prepare for the changes they are about to go through.