Puberty is the period of our lives when we mature, in physical (sexual) and psychological ways. This maturity is characterised by development of reproductive capacities – a person hitting puberty is physically fit to become a parent. This is followed by intense changes at psychological and emotional level as an effect of increased production of certain hormones that are being produced as part of the puberty.
Some young people pass through puberty without many problems, while others have a rocky ride. What it will be is dependent on many factors and it is nearly impossible to foresee the trajectory of puberty of a certain person.
When does the puberty start and how long does it last
There is no universal answer to this question as the beginning of puberty can vary from person to person. With girls, it usually begins between 9 and 13 years of age and with boys it is usually between 10 and 15. It is not impossible, however, that it happens earlier or later in life. There is no “right” age for the beginning of puberty as every individual has its own age. What is certain is that puberty will come and will pass.
Today’s girls reach puberty earlier than their ancestors – for example, at the beginning of the twentieth century the average age of the first menstrual period was 15. Different food and other environmental factors are considered as an influence here.
The duration of puberty can also vary and on the average it can last between 2 and 5 years but it is not uncommon for it to be longer or shorter.
Which factors influence the start of puberty?
This question can not be answered unequivocally since it is believed that there are multiple factors at play. One theory posits that the puberty begins when either certain body mass or body composition is reached. This theory would then explain why puberty starts earlier today for many children, relying on the fact that average child weight is increased. There is a documented relation between the effects of the hormone called leptin produced by the fat cells (adypocites) and the beginning of puberty.
Physical changes in puberty
Physical changes in puberty follow a certain order in both boys and girls.
For girls, the first sign of puberty is breast growth, followed by growing of pubic hair and armpit hair. In a small number of girls, pubic hair appears first and is then followed by breast growth. After approximately two years since breasts start growing, monthly period starts which marks the beginning of the reproductive age.
Girls may feel light painful sensation and discomfort during breasts growth. It is also possible that one breast grows faster than the other one, but they usually even out after a while. In addition the whole body grows, gains curves and weight, becomes more feminine – all of which is normal.
For the majority of boys, the first sign of puberty is growth of testicles, followed by penis growth. This growth almost always precedes growth of pubic hair and this is in turn followed by growth of armpit hair and hair at other parts of the body (chest etc.). The voice becomes deeper, muscle mass develops and body height increases. The last to develop is facial hair (beard and moustaches). Also erections and ejaculations start occurring which signifies the beginning of the reproductive age.
Some body parts such as feet, hands, nose or ears can grow slightly faster than the rest and this is normal, usually to be evened out with time. Because of accelerated growth, many boys experience light pains in arms, legs and back, due to the fact that bones can grow faster than the muscles and rest of the body.
Almost 50% of all boys experience adolescent gynecomastia characterised by breasts growth. It is temporary and disappears in between 6 to 18 months.
Frequent effect of puberty are pimples (acnae, blackheads) that are a side effect of increased hormonal activity. Acnae are inflamed sebaceous glands or hair follicles and usually appear on the face, but are not uncommon on the neck, back, chest or other areas. They may appear with the onset of puberty and usually disappear when it ends.
Psychological changes in puberty
Production of hormones also affects psychological and emotional life of young people and their emotions are also affected by witnessing physical changes of their body, followed by forming of their identity through social contacts with their surroundings.
Emotions can wildly vary moment to moment, transitioning from depression to euphoria. Young people going through puberty are more prone to fighting and getting angry with their peers and family.