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Puberty: What Parents Should Expect

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As children come of age, they begin to start puberty. It can be a confusing time for both the parents and the children, and every child experiences puberty differently. While raising three children, puberty has been very different for all three of them, and I have had to handle it differently with each of them. It is a topic that isn’t discussed as often as the baby and toddler stages, but it should, so I recently talked with Dr. Barbara Stefanides at Kaiser Permanente about what parents should expect about their children starting puberty.

The biggest question that I had before my children became teenagers was, “When will they start going through puberty?” What I quickly learned was that my children started at different times from my friend’s children, and my one son was very late starting puberty.

Dr. Stefanides advised me that there is a range. Girls will tend to begin puberty around nine or ten. The first thing that happens is that something gets turned on in the brain that signals the body to start making changes. First, their breasts will begin to grow, and they will get a tender bump under their nipple. The bump can be tender and sometimes will only be on one side and not the other. The next thing that will happen is that they will begin to grow hair. Girls will tend to start their menstrual cycle three years after their breasts begin to grow. The average age for a young girl to start her period is 12 1/2.

One fantastic recommendation that Dr. Stefanides gives to all her patients is to purchase the American Girl Doll book, “The Care and Keeping of You.” It is a great book that is written for girls. American Girl Doll also has a book for teens and for boys that gives pre-teens and teenagers information about what is happening to their bodies in a way that they can understand. The books talk about shaving legs, inserting a tampon, the best time for wearing a bra, and more.

When it comes to boys, they start puberty later, and their process stretches out over a longer period of time. The typical age is 11 to 15 years of age. The first sign they will begin to see is hair growth and enlargement of the testicles/penis. Then their voice will begin changing as well as their skin glands which can cause some to develop acne. Dr. Stefanides recommends parents encourage their boys to have good hygiene and skin care. About 50% of boys will also develop a small bump under their breast, which is normal.

The book that Dr. Stefanides recommends parents purchase for their boys is the “American Medical Association Boy’s Guide to Becoming a Teen.” When it comes to boys, they can be shy or nervous and don’t want to ask questions. Having a resource like this book can help parents begin conversations with their boys about puberty.

One of the biggest things that I noticed when my children started puberty was the mood swings. I had expected my daughter to have the most mood swings, but it ended up being my boys who did. Dr. Stefanides advised me that hormones impact all people differently. There can be surges and sways, and most girls will experience mood swings during their menstrual cycles.

Along with puberty comes the time when most parents begin to talk to their children about sex. Dr. Stefanides recommended the book “Talk to Me First,” by Deborah Roffman. She also stressed the importance of talking to children early about sex because they need information, boundaries, and values. Children need to have the right information so they can make the right decisions at the right time.

Finally, it is important for teens to begin developing their own relationship with their doctor. At Kaiser Permanente, they will ask the parents to step out of the room so that teenagers can have the opportunity to talk with their doctor about things they might not feel comfortable mentioning in front of their parents. Although this is not required, nor do they force it if the teen or parents feel uncomfortable, but it is a great way for teenagers to begin growing their own relationship with their physician.

The doctors at Kaiser Permanente are not only there to help keep your family healthy, but also to help with questions or concerns about your child’s development as their go through puberty. If you feel like something might be wrong or concerned about your child as they go through puberty, your Kaiser Permanente physician will be available to help answer your questions and ease and concerns.

Learn more about Kaiser Permanente online. Find your closest Kaiser Permanente farmer’s market online.

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