OK, so it's a funny word . . . but what is puberty, anyway? Puberty
is the name for when your body begins to develop and change. During
puberty, your body will grow faster than any other time in your life,
except for when you were an infant. Back then, your body was growing
rapidly and you were learning new things - you'll be doing these things
and much more during puberty. Except this time, you won't have diapers
or a rattle and you'll have to dress yourself!
It's good to know about the changes that come along with puberty
before they happen, and it's really important to remember that everybody
goes through it. No matter where you live, whether you're a guy
or a girl, or whether you like hip-hop or country music, you will
experience the changes that occur during puberty. No two people
are exactly alike. But one thing all adults have in common is they
made it through puberty.
Time to Change
When your body reaches a certain age, your brain releases a special
hormone that starts the changes of puberty. It's called gonadotropin-releasing
hormone, or GnRH for short. When GnRH reaches the pituitary gland
(a pea-shaped gland that sits just under the brain), this gland
releases into the bloodstream two more puberty hormones: luteinizing
hormone (LH for short) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH for
short). Guys and girls have both of these hormones in their bodies.
And depending on whether you're a guy or a girl, these hormones
go to work on different parts of the body.
For guys, these hormones travel through the blood and give the
testes the signal to begin the production of testosterone and sperm.
Testosterone is the hormone that causes most of the changes in a
guy's body during puberty. Sperm cells must be produced for men
In girls, FSH and LH target the ovaries, which contain eggs that
have been there since birth. The hormones stimulate the ovaries
to begin producing another hormone called estrogen. Estrogen, along
with FSH and LH, causes a girl's body to mature and prepares her
So that's what's really happening during puberty - it's all these
new chemicals moving around inside your body, turning you from a
teen into an adult with adult levels of hormones.
Puberty usually starts some time between age 8 and 13 in girls
and 10 and 15 in guys. Some people start puberty a bit earlier or
later, though. Each person is a little different, so everyone starts
and goes through puberty on his or her body's own schedule. This
is one of the reasons why some of your friends might still look
like kids, whereas others look more like adults.
It Doesn't Hurt . . . It's Just a Growth Spurt
"Spurt" is the word used to describe a short burst of
activity, something that happens in a hurry. And a growth spurt
is just that: Your body is growing, and it's happening really fast!
When you enter puberty, it might seem like your sleeves are always
getting shorter and your pants always look like you're ready for
a flood - that's because you're experiencing a major growth spurt.
It lasts for about 2 to 3 years. When that growth spurt is at its
peak, some people grow 4 or more inches in a year.
This growth during puberty will be the last time your body grows
taller. After that, you will be at your adult height. But your height
isn't the only thing that will be changing.
As your body grows taller, it will change in other ways, too.
You will gain weight, and as your body becomes heavier, you'll start
to notice changes in its overall shape. Guys' shoulders will grow
wider, and their bodies will become more muscular. Their voices
will become deeper. For some guys, the breasts may grow a bit, but
for most of them this growth goes away by the end of puberty.
Guys will notice other changes, too, like the lengthening and widening
of the penis and the enlargement of the testes. All of these changes
mean that their bodies are developing as expected during puberty.
Girls' bodies usually become curvier. They gain weight on their
hips, and their breasts develop, starting with just a little swelling
under the nipple. Sometimes one breast might develop more quickly
than the other, but most of the time they soon even out. With all
this growing and developing going on, girls will notice an increase
in body fat and occasional soreness under the nipples as the breasts
start to enlarge - and that's normal.
Gaining some weight is part of developing into a woman, and it's
unhealthy for girls to go on a diet to try to stop this normal weight
gain. If you ever have questions or concerns about your weight,
talk it over with your doctor.
Usually about 2 to 2 1/2 years after girls' breasts start to develop,
they get their first menstrual period. This is one more thing that
lets a girl know puberty is progressing and the puberty hormones
have been doing their job. Girls have two ovaries, and each ovary
holds thousands of eggs. During the menstrual cycle, one of the
eggs comes out of an ovary and begins a trip through the fallopian
tube, ending up in the uterus (the uterus is also called the womb).
Before the egg is released from the ovary, the uterus has been
building up its lining with extra blood and tissue. If the egg is
fertilized by a sperm cell, it stays in the uterus and grows into
a baby, using that extra blood and tissue to keep it healthy and
protected as it's developing.
Most of the time, though, the egg is only passing through. When
the egg doesn't get fertilized, the uterus no longer needs the extra
blood and tissue, so it leaves the body through the vagina as a
menstrual period. A period usually lasts from 5 to 7 days, and about
2 weeks after the start of the period a new egg is released, which
marks the middle of each cycle.
Hair, Hair, Everywhere
Well, maybe not everywhere. But one of the first signs of puberty
is hair growing where it didn't grow before. Guys and girls both
begin to grow hair under their arms and in their pubic areas (on
and around the genitals). It starts out looking light and sparse.
Then as you go through puberty, it becomes longer, thicker, heavier,
and darker. Eventually, guys also start to grow hair on their faces.
Another thing that comes with puberty is acne, or pimples. Acne
is triggered by puberty hormones. Pimples usually start around the
beginning of puberty and can stick around during adolescence (the
teen years). You may notice pimples on your face, your upper back,
or your upper chest. It helps to keep your skin clean, and your
doctor will be able to offer some suggestions for clearing up acne.
The good news about acne is that it usually gets better or disappears
by the end of adolescence.
Putting the P.U. in Puberty
A lot of teens notice that they have a new smell under their arms
and elsewhere on their bodies when they enter puberty, and it's
not a pretty one. That smell is body odor, and everyone gets it.
As you enter puberty, the puberty hormones affect glands in your
skin, and the glands make chemicals that smell bad. These chemicals
put the scent in adolescent!
So what can you do to feel less stinky? Well, keeping clean is
a good way to lessen the smell. You might want to take a shower
every day, either in the morning before school, or the night before.
Using deodorant (or deodorant with antiperspirant) every day can
help keep body odor in check, too.
Guys and girls will also notice other body changes as they enter
puberty, and they're all normal changes. Girls might see and feel
a white, mucous-like discharge from the vagina. This doesn't mean
anything is wrong - it is just another sign of your changing body
Guys will begin to get erections (this is when the penis fills
with blood and becomes hard) sometimes. Erections happen when guys
fantasize and think about sexual things or sometimes for no reason
at all. They may experience something called nocturnal emissions
(or wet dreams). This is when the penis becomes erect while a guy
is sleeping, and he ejaculates. When a guy ejaculates, semen comes
out of the penis - semen is a fluid that contains sperm. That's
why they're called wet dreams - they happen when you're sleeping
and your underwear or the bed might be a little wet when you wake
up. Wet dreams become less frequent as guys progress through puberty,
and they eventually stop. Guys will also notice that their voices
may "crack" and eventually get deeper.
Change Can Feel Kind of Strange
Just as those hormones create changes in the way your body looks
on the outside, they also create changes on the inside. While your
body is adjusting to all the new hormones, so is your mind. During
puberty, you might feel confused or have strong emotions that you've
never experienced before. You may feel anxious about how your changing
You might feel overly sensitive or become easily upset. Some teens
lose their tempers more than usual and get angry at their friends
Sometimes it can be difficult to deal with all of these new emotions.
Usually people aren't trying to hurt your feelings or upset you
on purpose. It might not be your family or friends making you angry
- it might be your new "puberty brain" trying to adjust.
And while the adjustment can feel difficult in the beginning, it
will gradually become easier. It can help to talk to someone and
share the burden of how you're feeling - a friend or, even better,
a parent, older sibling, or adult who's gone thorough it all before.
You might have new, confusing feelings about sex - and lot of questions.
The adult hormones estrogen and testosterone are signals that your
body is giving you new responsibilities, like the ability to create
a child. That's why it's important to get all your questions answered.
It's easy to feel embarrassed or anxious when talking about sex,
but you need to be sure you have all the right information. Some
teens can talk to their parents about sex and get all their questions
answered. But if you feel funny talking to your parents about sex,
there are many other people to talk to, like your doctor, a school
nurse, a teacher, a school counselor, or another adult you feel
comfortable talking with.
People are all a little different from one another, so it makes
sense that they don't all develop in the same way. No two people
are at exactly the same stage as they go through puberty, and everyone
changes at his or her own pace. Some of your friends may be getting
curves, whereas you don't have any yet. Maybe your best friend's
voice has changed, and you think you still sound like a kid with
a high, squeaky voice. Or maybe you're sick of being the tallest
girl in your class or the only boy who has to shave.
But eventually everyone catches up, and the differences between
you and your friends will even out. It's also good to keep in mind
that there is no right or wrong way to look. That's what makes us
human - we all have qualities that make us unique, on the inside
and the outside.