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Puberty and Finding Out Who You Are
Puberty and Finding Out Who You Are
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Puberty and Finding Out Who You Are

If you’re between the ages of 9 and 14, you’ve probably started to experience puberty, or the changes that happen when your body changes from a child to a young adult. Then again, you may not have. Either way, don’t worry. Puberty in girls can start as early as age 8 and as late as 13 or 14. Puberty in boys can start as early as age nine and as late as 15, but eventually everyone goes through it!


What are the first changes a girl might notice?

There are no set changes that happen for everyone. Some girls begin with growth spurts during which they grow taller. For others, the first sign may be that their breasts begin to grow or hair starts to grow under their arms and in their pubic area.


What changes do boys go through during puberty?

Boys often begin puberty a little later than girls. Below are some common changes boys go through during puberty:

  • Growing hair on the face, under the arms and in the genital area
  • Growing taller
  • Broadening shoulders
  • Deepening voice
  • Having frequent and at times spontaneous erections
  • Possibly experiencing wet dreams, meaning ejaculating semen while sleeping. (This is normal if it happens and normal if it does not.)
What is menstruation and why do girls get periods?

During puberty, girls begin to get their menstrual periods. Menstrual periods are when a small amount of blood and tissue leave the body through the vagina over the course of a few days. It happens about once every month and can last from a couple of days to a week. Some girls have cramps during their periods while others don’t. Girls commonly use a maxi pad, tampon or feminine hygiene cup to manage the blood that leaves their body during a period.

When a girl gets her first period, it signals that her body has begun ovulating. Ovulation happens once a month when a hormone or chemical in the body signals a girl’s ovaries to release an egg or ovum. This means that if a girl has unprotected sex she could become pregnant. The hormone estrogen is also released to signal to the girl’s uterus to build up its lining. If after sex an egg is fertilized by a sperm, the fertilized egg will implant in the lining and cause a pregnancy. If an egg is not fertilized within 12 to 24 hours after ovulation, the egg dies and disintegrates. Two weeks later, when the uterus realizes there is no fertilized egg, the built-up lining of the uterus is released, or shed, during a girl’s menstrual period.

Why do some boys go through puberty later than others?

Everybody goes through puberty at their own pace. Hormones—the body’s chemical signals—tell your body to begin changing. Some boys may experience a growth spurt sooner than others, while other boys might get facial hair or a deeper voice later than others. Your body will go through puberty at the exact right time for you, and there’s no way to speed it up or slow it down. So don’t worry, it’s all totally normal!

Is it normal that I sometimes get an erection for no reason?

Yes, during puberty, people can experience strong sexual feelings for no reason. Boys may get erections, when the penis fills with blood and stands away from the body. Erections can happen at times that are inconvenient, like while you’re sitting in class, which can be embarrassing. It’s good to have a plan for what you can do if and when this happens to you. You can try carrying an extra sweatshirt in your backpack to tie around your waist or a book you can carry in front of you. Mostly, don’t worry—it happens to everyone and as you get older, it won’t happen nearly as much.

What’s a wet dream?

During puberty the body produces a hormone called testosterone that tells the testicles to start making sperm. Once the body starts making sperm, semen—the fluid that contains sperm—can be released through the tip of the penis. This is called ejaculation. Wet dreams happen when ejaculation occurs spontaneously while a boy is sleeping. Often when you have that first wet dream, you may think you have peed in the bed, but it’s actually semen. You can simply take the sheet off the bed and put it in the hamper to be washed. And remember, wet dreams are normal if you have them and normal if you don’t.

Girls go through a process called puberty, during which their body experiences many changes in order to allow it to physically reproduce and become an adult. One change is that girls begin to get their menstrual periods. Menstrual periods occur once a month and can last from a few days to a week. Some girls have cramps during their periods while others do not. It’s important for girls to understand that their first period signals the beginning of ovulation and their body’s ability to get pregnant if they were to have unprotected sex. Once a month, a hormone in the girl’s brain signals her ovaries to release an egg or ovum (a process called ovulation). The hormone estrogen is also released to signal the girl’s uterus to build up its lining. If an egg is not fertilized within 12 to 24 hours after ovulation, the egg dies and disintegrates while still in the uterine tube. Two weeks later, when the uterus realizes there is no fertilized egg, the built-up lining of the uterus is released or shed during a girl’s menstrual period.

Boys usually begin puberty between the ages of 9 and 15, and it may take five to seven years for all of the changes to occur. The most obvious of these changes include a growth spurt; the voice becoming deeper; shoulders becoming broader; hair growth on the face, around the genitals and underarms; and the genitals growing larger. Some boys may experience acne, and their sweat may develop a strong odor. Some may also experience slight breast growth that can be embarrassing but usually resolves on its own.

When boys go through puberty, testosterone triggers the testicles to start making sperm, so the penis can now ejaculate. During puberty, some boys experience wet dreams or nocturnal emissions, when ejaculation occurs spontaneously during sleep. Wet dreams are normal, though not everyone has them. Many boys also experience spontaneous erections during puberty. Again, it’s normal if they do, and normal if they don’t.

There are many other physical, emotional and social changes of puberty as well, and it generally takes five to seven years for all of the changes to be complete. Additional physical changes of puberty include a growth spurt during which girls and boys become taller as well as hair growth under their arms, on their legs and around their genitals. Their genitals will grow in size as their whole body grows larger. They may also experience acne, and their sweat may now have a strong odor.

There are also emotional changes during puberty, including mood swings, experiencing sexual feelings, being interested in other people in a new romantic and/or sexual way and often feeling a need for more privacy from parents and/or siblings.

It is important for caring adults to explain the changes of puberty to young women before and while they are going through them. It is also essential to assure them that these changes are normal. Helping young people identify ways to cope with these changes can make this stage of life less stressful. Talking about these changes with the young people in your life lets them know that they are not alone and can come to their parents or guardians if they have questions or need support.


It’s essential that you have conversations about topics like puberty if your child is to know that she or he can come to you with questions. The easiest way to start these conversations is to talk about issues as they come up in everyday life, like while watching TV together.

Some topics, like masturbation, may not come up in regular conversation, but it’s important to bring them up anyway. During puberty, girls, just like boys, begin to have new sexual feelings. Some begin to masturbate. It is normal if they do and also normal if they don’t.

Below are some ways to start these conversations:

Have dinner together and talk about what is going on in your tween’s life

When she mentions a friend you know, you can say, “Wow, Amber has really developed this year.” You can then use this time to talk about how different people go through puberty at different ages.

Talk about puberty while buying deodorant or shaving

Try broaching these topics while doing something related to them. For example, while in the store buying deodorant for yourself, you can share why you use deodorant and ask which one your child wants to try. While shaving your face, you can bring your child in to shave together. These actions can create opportunities for conversations about puberty to happen in as natural a setting as possible.

Buy menstrual pads or tampons for your child

When you get home and unpack the groceries, tell your daughter that you bought these for her. Explain that you know that she hasn’t gotten her period yet and that it may still be awhile, but you want her to know that these things are here for her when she needs them. You can go on to talk more about how to use them and/or tell her you are always there for her, whenever she wants to talk more about these things.

Find some time alone to talk to your child about puberty

When the two of you are alone after dinner, you could say, “Boys your age or a little older sometimes ejaculate while they are sleeping. I want you to know that it’s normal if that happens to you and it’s normal if it doesn’t. If it happens, you can just throw your sheets in the hamper and put on some new ones. No worries at all. What do you think?”