Puberty is a period of time in early adolescence when a young person goes through changes that lead to sexual maturity. It usually takes between two and five years to complete.
Before puberty starts boys and girls are physically similar. However, while some changes during puberty are the same for boys and girls, these changes result in adult males and females becoming very different physically. Changes are caused by hormones.
Hormones are chemical messages that are made in glands and travel through the bloodstream to target sites at other places in the body. There are many glands in the human body that produce a range of hormones, each of which causes a specific function.
The pituitary gland produces hormones that travel to the testes in males and triggers the production of the hormone testosterone and the onset of puberty. In females, the hormones from the pituitary gland trigger the production of the hormone oestrogen in the ovaries and the onset of puberty.
Most girls will start puberty around the age of 12-14, but some may begin as early as eight. Most boys will start puberty around the age of 14-15, but some may start as early as 12. Although the sequence of changes is the same for all girls and the same for all boys, the timing for each individual is determined by genetic information inherited from parents.
The unique person they will become physically is also determined by genetic inheritance. Young people need reassurance that they will all go through puberty, regardless of the timing.
Adequate sleep, a balanced diet and regular exercise will help a young person stay healthy as they go through puberty. The hormones that cause an increase in oil production may lead to pimples, increased body odour and cause the growth of pubic and underarm hair. Boys also start to grow facial and other body hair. Initially the production of hormones in irregular bursts may lead to restless nights and emotional changes. Young people will benefit from learning about relaxation strategies.
The Hormone Factory is a great website to go to for fun, easy-to-understand information about puberty.
A range of books and DVDs on puberty is also available from the SHine SA Library.