Changes Your Child is Going Through
From the day we’re born until the day we die, our bodies are changing - but few times are we changing as drastically as during puberty. Technically, puberty is defined as “the stage of physical development when sexual reproduction first becomes possible”. But of course, along with these physical changes also come drastic emotional and social changes as well. After puberty comes adolescence and all the joys and difficulties that come with this period of your child’s life.
For parents, it’s important to know what changes your child is going through. Not only will it help you answer the questions or concerns they’re bound to have, but it will also help you to understand exactly where your child is coming from. By no means do you need to be an expert . There are lots of places to find answers as you need them. During this period of rapid change, the best thing you can do as a parent is:
- Explain that the changes associated with puberty are normal
- Use humour (but not teasing), and reassurance
- Be open and honest
- Offer support
- Answer questions
- Use proper terms for body parts
What’s Happening to Your Teen?
Your child will be going through many changes during puberty that could last anywhere from one to six years. These changes are outlined in detail in the sections below. All of these changes are caused and controlled by chemicals called hormones, and different hormones are responsible for different changes.
And remember…you don’t have to be an expert on all of these changes, but being knowledgeable could help strengthen your relationship. It will give you some valuable insight into the way your teen thinks and behaves, and prepare you for the changes to come.
For girls, the first sign of puberty is breast development, which typically start when she’s about 10 ½ years old. It begins with breast budding, and this early development may be tender and may not be the same on each side. There is usually a growth spurt at this time. Pubic hair will generally start to develop about six months later. Underarm hair begins to grow. Her first period, called her “menarche”, occurs at an average age of 12 ½ to 13 years. Development continues and the whole process is completed in 3-4 years, eventually reaching adult breast and areola size and an adult pattern of pubic hair. Girls reach their final adult height about two years after menarche.
For boys puberty begins later - at an average age of 11 ½ or 12 years. The first sign is an increase in the size of the testicles. This is followed a few months later by the growth of pubic hair. Puberty continues with an increase in the size of the testicles and penis and continued growth of pubic and underarm hair. Growing hands and feet are usually the first signs of physical growth, later followed by growth in the arms, legs, trunk and chest. His voice will grow deeper, he will grow extra muscle mass, and he will develop the ability to get erections and ejaculate. Some boys may also experience breast development. Boys undergo their peak growth spurt about 2-3 years later than girls.
Psychological Changes - (Mental Health)
Just like their bodies, their minds are also growing. They start to develop the ability to question the world around them. They start to see the bigger picture of life, and develop a sense of how they want to fit into it. Here’s where you come in. Offer your support and guidance to help them to understand what’s important in life. After all, the better they understand what they want from life, the better prepared they’ll be to make the choices that are right for them.
During puberty, your child will become more independent. This may mean that they’ll be spending a lot more time with friends or in private than with you. They may also want more freedom and the ability to make their own decisions, which will probably cause an argument from time to time. For some parents, this can be a heartbreaking experience. It’s easy to think “They don’t need or love me anymore!” BUT THIS JUST ISN’T TRUE!
Adolescents are trying to gain more independence, but with independence comes responsibility. The journey to adulthood can be a trying period for your teen, and they may stumble along the way. And though it may seem like you’re getting farther apart, now as much as ever before, your child needs your support and guidance.
But it’s not easy. Finding a good mix between trying to support your child and allowing them their independence can be a bit like walking a tightrope. The best advice is to choose your battles carefully and decide what’s truly important to you - it’s good to set limits, but be realistic and compromise when you can.
Emotional Changes (Mood Changes)
Puberty can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Boys and girls both experience drastic mood changes…they’re likely to feel moody, insecure (especially about the way they look), easily embarrassed or awkward. One minute they’re flying high, the next they’re angry or sad.
For parents, dealing with these constant mood swings can get pretty frustrating. But before you start to pull your hair out, remember that a lot of these emotions are caused by hormones, and to some degree they’re out of your child’s power to control. In fact, your child may be having an even more difficult time dealing with their own feelings.
Luckily, there are a couple of ways to reduce the stress level. Encourage them to discuss their feelings. Maybe even share your experiences with them whenever it seems appropriate - without lecturing, and with a sense of humour (but without teasing). Not only will they see you as real people - but it will help them to realize that all the emotions they’re experiencing are just a normal part of growing up.
Hormones contribute to all of the changes of puberty. Boys’ main hormone is testosterone, produced in the testicles, and girls’ main hormones are estrogen and progesterone, produced in the ovaries. During puberty, these hormone levels rise.
One of the pitfalls to avoid as a parent is to attribute too much of your child’s mood to hormones. Hormones can cause a lot of emotional and behavioural changes in you child, but if your child seems to be in turmoil, don’t be too quick to blame it on hormones - there could be other, more serious issues at play.
These days, it’s pretty easy to feel ugly. Our culture puts a lot of value in being beautiful, even though barely a fraction of a percent of us can hold up to the standard of “beauty” set by our models and movie stars. But as we get older, most of us come to terms with our bodies and realize that there’s a lot more to beauty than just the way you look.
But for teens growing into their adult bodies, desperate to be accepted, physical beauty can mean everything. Some may not like the body they’re growing into, and with today’s high standards, even physically attractive teens will often feel inadequate. And while there’s a good chance your teen will eventually come around and accept their body (at least to some degree), there’s a chance that some of their negative self-image will follow them into adulthood.
As a parent, do what you can to make your child feel positive. Although they may get sick of hearing it, tell them again and again how great they look. Help them to feel proud of themselves on the inside as well as the outside, and reinforce all the positive characteristics that they should be proud of.
But remember, your child is just as likely to learn from example as from what you tell them. If you’re unhappy with your appearance, insecure, or constantly putting your own body down, you’re sending your child a powerful message.