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The Facts About Puberty

Posted on Jan 5, 2016

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Puberty – it’s a time of many changes for your child. While kids often struggle with the timing of physical changes as compared to their peers, parents may find the emotional changes to be the most challenging. “One minute your child is yearning for independence, the next he or she wants to be close to you. It’s a time of constant rebalancing,” says Robin Drucker, M.D., a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. In this blog post, Dr. Drucker answers common questions parents have about puberty. 

When does puberty start and what are the signs?

Girls typically enter puberty between 8 and 13 years old. Early signs include breast development, body odor, darkening hair color and the appearance of pubic and underarm hair, with a first period following in about two years. Girls grow the fastest during the six months before their first period, then continue to grow slowly for the next two or three years.

Boys usually enter puberty around age 11 or 12. The first sign is most often body odor, followed by testicular growth, body hair and voice changes. There is no set time for the end of puberty for boys – they may continue to grow all the way through college.

What’s the best way to talk to my child about puberty?

During fourth and fifth grade, puberty and sex education are usually part of the curriculum at school. This can be a good opportunity to speak to your child about this topic. Some medical and community organizations offer puberty classes that boys and girls attend with a parent, which can also be a good conversation starter. Either way, make sure your child hears this important information from you first, and knows that he or she can always come to you with questions.

Be sure to talk to your daughter about periods well before they might start, and make sure she’s prepared with a starter kit of sanitary supplies that she can keep in her backpack or locker at school.

Can puberty come too early or too late?

There is a wide range of what’s considered normal when it comes to puberty. Speak to your child’s doctor if your child has signs of puberty before age 8, or has no signs by age 14.  Also speak to your doctor if your daughter has not started her period by age 16.

What can I do to support my child’s health during this time?

  • Ensure Ample Sleep: Growing is hard work. At least nine to 10 hours of sleep at night is recommended to give your child’s brain and body sufficient time to rest and restore energy.
  • Encourage Good Nutrition: Healthy foods fuel healthy growth. Make sure your child has plenty of healthy food options and doesn’t skip meals. Inadequate nutrition can intensify hormonal mood swings.
  • Top Up Calcium and Iron: Our bodies build the most bone mass during these years, so it’s vital that your child gets the recommended 1,300 mg of calcium a day. (Four 8-ounce servings of calcium-rich products such as milk or yogurt). Once your daughter gets her period, make sure she is getting the recommended 8 mg per day of iron. The richest sources of iron are lean meat and seafood followed by nuts, beans and vegetables. A daily multivitamin can help cover any potential deficiencies.
  • Hydrate: Remind your rapidly-growing preteen or teen to drink enough fluids – preferably water – throughout the day.
  • Monitor Social Media Involvement: Although it’s not always easy, try and stay on top of what your child is looking at online, and who he or she is connected with on social media. Talk to your child regularly about his or her social media involvement so you can provide guidance.

drucker_rRobin Drucker, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Palo Alto Center.