Caregiver – Puberty

Puberty

Young people often have questions about the changes they will experience during puberty. As a caregiver, don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. Explore this section to learn all about what to expect and how to support your young person and yourself as they go through these changes.

Stage1_crop
Ages 8-10

The Basics of Stage 1: Brain Work (often ages 8 - 10)




Somewhere between the ages of 8 to 10, your young person will begin the physiological changes of puberty. You may not see the physical changes in them, yet hormones are beginning to be released and their body is about to “bloom.” During the first stage of puberty, an area of the brain called the hypothalamus starts to send signals to the rest of the body that it is time to start developing into an adult body. These signals are actually hormones that travel through your bloodstream and include gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), the luteinizing hormone (LH), and the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). These hormones are the main ones responsible for helping your young person grow from their current body size into the adult-size body they are meant to be.

Some of the various parts of the body that are stimulated to grow and change are your:

  • External reproductive organs
  • Breast tissue
  • Skin
  • Muscles
  • Bones
  • Hair
  • Brain

Note: If you believe your young person is going through bodily changes early (precocious puberty), or seems delayed (delayed puberty), make an appointment with your medical professional. This person can help ease your mind and provide support if either of these situations are occurring.

Supporting Your Preteen and YOU!

During this stage, start researching what changes will occur. This includes checking out different areas of the Puberty Tab on the BLOOM website, as well as the numerous books and other resources that exist. You can also share these resources with your young person, discovering them together or separately, and then talking about what was learned at a later time. Just like a person who reads a Driver’s Education manual before actually driving a vehicle, researching and reading up on what to expect helps to prepare your young person and you!

Talking with Your Preteen

Many health professionals recommend talking with your young person before they begin going through the actual changes of puberty. This talk helps to prepare them for all the basic changes they will experience over the next few years, including the physical, mental, emotional, and social changes. (See the Q&A Section for additional reasons why) Also, remind your young person that everyone develops at their own rate. To help start conversations, consider asking them the following:

  • What are you noticing about some kids at school who seem to be growing older?
  • What are you looking forward to as you get older?
  • What are you not looking forward to as you get older?
Stage2_crop
Ages 9-11

The Basics of Stage 2: Noticeable Body Changes Begin (often ages 9 to 11)




Stage 2 is the time many people start to notice the beginning body changes a young person experiences. Occurring between the ages of 9 and 11, these changes include:

  • Pubic hair starts to grow light on the outer lips of the vulva and/or at the base of the penis.
  • Armpit hair may start to develop in some preteens.
  • Body odor may become more apparent. This is because these hormones can increase sweating which combines with bacteria to create more smells.
  • Reproductive parts are beginning to mature and get larger. For most assigned females at birth, this includes the uterus and vagina. For most assigned males at birth, this includes the testicles and the sac holding the testicles called the scrotum.
  • For many assigned females, the development of the breasts begins under the nipples, which are called buds. These buds may appear like a bump or puffy area under or around the nipples.  As this happens, the breast areas may feel sore or itchy at times – this is normal. As more time passes, the areola, the area around the nipples, also gets larger.

Supporting Your Preteen and YOU!

Upon new physical developments occurring with your young person, continue your research about what to expect and how to handle these occurrences. This can include:

  • Reviewing hygiene habits. To do this, have a family meeting to remind everyone of the following:
    • Change undergarments/underwear regularly, including after fitness activities.
    • Wash one’s body, especially the areas that get sweaty, including the underarms, pubic area, and feet.
    • Apply deodorant to the underarm area to prevent smelly armpits.
    • Brush one’s teeth at least twice per day and floss.
    • Properly wash clothes.
    • Eat plenty of healthy whole foods and vegetables and stay physically active.
  • Help them choose undergarments they prefer to wear. Many stores have individuals specifically trained in helping people find supportive clothing, like bras (if they choose to wear one) and underwear, by accurately measuring a person’s size.
  • Recognizing the change in moods that might also begin. Although we do not “see” this development, we often note that our young person is experiencing a variety of moods. To cope with this, help your family members practice effective communication skills, mentioned in the next section below, to properly express one’s emotions.

Talking with Your Preteen

Continue communicating with your preteen about what they are experiencing. Yet you might notice they may not want to talk as much. There is usually a time in which many caregivers notice their preteen wanting more space. If this doesn’t occur in this stage, it may in the future. To help start conversations, consider asking the following:

  • How are you feeling about the new changes your body is experiencing?
  • What hygiene habits can we, as a family, improve upon?
  • When would you like to explore clothing options for your growing body?
  • Are the changes you are experiencing aligned with your gender identity and how you feel inside?

 

Stage3_crop
Ages 12-13

The Basics of Stage 3: More Obvious Body Changes Begin (often ages 12 - 13)




Usually, at Stage 3, we notice a lot of physical changes our preteen or teen is experiencing due to body size and hair growth. These include:

  • An increase in height.  Some preteens or teens think they grew taller overnight, yet it actually takes some time.  Preteens or teens may notice growth spurts of a few inches or more over the course of a year.
  • An increase in body hair in new places of the body or darker hair in other places.
  • The changing of body shapes, including more muscle development.
  • For many females assigned at birth:
    • The continued growth and expansion of the breast buds
    • Noticeable armpit hair growing
    • Acne may be appearing due to sebaceous glands under the skin becoming more active and may clog pores, leading to acne
    • Hips and thighs expanding and growing larger
  • For many males assigned at birth:
    • The broadening of the shoulders 
    • Wet dreams (nocturnal emissions- sperm ejaculation during sleep) may occur for some
    • “Cracking” of the voice due to the vocal cords growing
    • Some breast tissue may develop; this usually disappears as time passes

These changes may seem like a lot, yet they are spread out over a period of time and occur typically during the ages of 12 and 13.

Supporting Your Preteen or Teen and YOU!

Stage 3 can bring a variety of new experiences for you and your preteen or teen. These experiences can fall into a wide spectrum of closeness (due to family time) all the way to separation, in which your preteen or teen seeks increased privacy for longer periods of time.

To support family time, consider planning a special celebration, acknowledgment, rite of passage ceremony, or coming of age ceremony, noting the transition they are going through. This concept may seem strange at first, yet many cultures celebrate life transitions in a variety of ways. Think of something that would be special to them and you! Perhaps an evening out at a new restaurant. Or a personal journal given as a gift. Camp overnight at a National Park. Do something that will create a special memory for your young person and the family.

To help with the privacy aspect, re-visit the household expectations and inquire if additional ones are needed. Newer expectations might include: knocking on any closed door and waiting 10 full seconds before opening it; everyone putting their own laundry away in their personal spaces; and designated family or alone time.

Due to continued hair growth, consider teaching your preteen or teen healthy habits for hair maintenance and/or removal. If shaving is something you are okay with your young person doing, go over the steps of shaving both verbally, as well as physically modeling how to do it. Shavers need to be used carefully to ensure no deep cut/nick occurs. There are also depilatory shaving products that you may find work better at preventing in-grown hairs and irritated /bumpy skin. We would highly recommend searching any and all products you use for hair removal on the EWG Skin Deep database to learn more about the health and safety of these types of products before purchasing.

If your preteen or teen are experiencing growing pains, check-in with your medical professional. Let them know these aches/pains are occurring so they can provide specific advice to help. Advice may include stretching exercises, massage, as well as other options.

Another habit to also be aware of is how you speak about yourself and your body in front of your preteen or teen. As they continue to experience changes in their body shape, they become more aware of how we, as adults, look at ourselves. (This modeling occurs throughout a person’s life, including when we are toddlers.) So ask yourself: Do you critique how you perceive your body in front of your preteen or teen? Do you talk about the need to lose or gain weight constantly? Do you focus on counting and burning calories instead of doing exercise for your general health? If your answers are “yes,” consider how you can begin to send healthy messages to your preteen or teen about yourself and healthy habits. These messages include appreciating your strengths and abilities, as well as others that support body positivity.

Talking with Preteen or Teen 

As mentioned in the previous stage, you might notice your preteen or teen not wanting to talk as much with you or wanting more privacy. There is usually a time in which many caregivers notice their preteens or teens wanting more space and may seem less communicative. That does not mean you should not reach out and check in with them! Checking in with all family members is important. To check in and start conversations, consider asking your young person the following:

  • How can we make sure we support each other’s privacy?
  • How can we celebrate this transition you are experiencing?
  • What do you appreciate about your body?
Stage4_crop
Ages 13-14

The Basics of Stage 4: A Lot More Obvious Body Changes (often ages 13 - 14)




Just like Stage 3, we see a lot of physical changes within our young person during Stage 4. And, at this stage, we might not consider the term “young person” as the most appropriate anymore. Instead, the terms “teen” or “teenager” may work better because this stage usually occurs at ages 13 and 14. During this stage, many teenagers notice:

  • Thicker pubic hair – pubic hair can grow more curly and coarse.
  • For many females assigned at birth:
    • Their first period (menarche) occurs between the ages of 12 and 14, although some get it much earlier.  Clear or white vaginal discharge may appear up to 6 months prior to getting the first period.
    • Breasts getting fuller
  • For many males assigned at birth:
    • Their penis, scrotum, and testicles getting bigger and the scrotum sac becoming darker in color
    • A deeper voice becoming more apparent
    • Acne may be appearing due to sebaceous glands under the skin becoming more active and pores in the skin getting clogged, leading to acne.
    • Noticeable armpit hair growing

Also, because so many physical changes have occurred and continue to occur, your teen may become increasingly aware of their body image as well as other’s bodies.

Supporting Your Teen and YOU!

To successfully support your teen and you, let’s break down what you can do specifically for the noted changes occurring during this stage:

  • Due to your teen needing more privacy, you will probably not see the increased thickness of pubic hair. Yet, you might choose to have a conversation about how to properly care for this hair, including when it gets more “bushy.” Just like other body hair getting trimmed at times for some people, pubic hair can also be maintained in different ways.
  • For body shape changes, continue discussing with your young person their preference for different clothing requests. A young person who may not have cared about clothing before may now have more preferences as their body continues to change and they become more responsible or attracted to others.
  • Become a positive-period/menstruation household. Discuss with all family members the available supplies for anyone with a menstrual cycle, including where they are kept. Even if a household member does not experience a period, knowing what periods are and where supplies are located is helpful and supports the importance of everyone’s health. Note: This can also be done at an earlier time/stage, depending upon what young people are experiencing in your household.
  • Keep on reminding family members of healthy hygiene habits, including the need to wash one’s face in the morning and evening, as well as after fitness activities. Making sure and reminding your preteen is practicing healthy nutritional habits such as eating plenty of whole foods, fruits, and vegetables..
  • If your teen is concerned about acne, visit BLOOM’s Healthy Skincare section for tips and tools for managing.
  • Be prepared for some embarrassment regarding certain life events. Suddenly experiencing a voice “crack” or a new pimple in the middle of a family member’s forehead is not always a comfortable occurrence for young people or their caregivers. Add on getting a period unexpectedly or a spontaneous erection… and that can increase anxiety and embarrassment. Therefore, remind everyone of household expectations including how to act loving and kind to one another and how to tell another person when their “joking comments” have gone too far.
  • Have honest conversations about the realities of body image. This honesty includes discussing the numerous media images we see displaying many unhealthy and unrealistic shapes and sizes. To further support this:
    • Encourage your teen and yourself in trying a variety of physical fitness activities to learn how to love moving their/your bodies. Physical activity releases specific “feel-good” hormones which help us enjoy and appreciate our bodies.
    • Explore resources that note the unrealistic photo-altering that dramatically change the images in many social media accounts and advertisements.
    • Limit access to social media accounts. This act may seem really challenging, yet research with your teen on how technology can be helpful yet also hurtful. For example, the more time teenagers spend on social media accounts, there is the increased likelihood of depression. Also, check out the psychology behind social media platforms and what these corporations really care about.
    • Connect your teen with a health professional if they are displaying unhealthy body image habits including starving themselves, hiding food, obsessive use of social media, and excessive exercise.

Talking with Your Teen

Keep on reaching out to your teen. Even if they seem more private or their bedroom door is closed more often, they still need us. Some conversation starters during this stage are:

  • What do you need me to buy at the store? I am going to the [supermarket, drug store, mall].
  • Are there any new clubs or other activities you want to become more involved in? You may also want to leave a community flyer of youth events out for your teen to explore.
  • How can our family be healthier physically? Emotionally? Mentally? Socially?
Stage5_crop
Age 15+

The Basics of Stage 5: The Last Changes (often starts at age 15)




This last stage usually starts at age 15 and includes your teen having a body that is larger and more adult-like and adult-size. During this stage, the following occurs:

  • Height growth is slowing down.
  • Pubic hair being fully grown and spreading into the inner thigh area.
  • Genitals and reproductive organs being fully developed and adult size.
  • For many females assigned at birth:
    • Breast size and body shape including hip and buttocks areas are being formed. Yet both breasts and body shape can continue to change as a person ages due to hormones and habits.
    • Periods becoming regular, and occurring on a monthly schedule.
  • For many males assigned at birth
    • Facial hair has started growing
    • Penis, testicles, and scrotum start to reach their full size.

Supporting Your Teen and YOU!

  • Regarding the physical changes, continue to be supportive of healthy hygiene, eating, and sleeping habits. And, if you have concerns that your teen is still not physically developing at the rate that is expected, talk with your medical professional.
  • If you have not done so already, consider discussing healthy habits for hair maintenance and/or removal with your teen. If shaving is something you are okay with, including specific body areas, make sure to go over the proper steps of shaving both verbally as well as physically modeling what to do. Shavers need to be used carefully to ensure no deep cuts/nicks occur. If other hair removal techniques are supported, discuss the pros and cons of each, including the required maintenance and cost.
  • Regarding the continued mental, emotional, and social changes, as noted in an earlier stage, make sure to have established boundaries and expectations. As much as your teen may test you and their decision-making and independent skills, respectful behaviors and consequences are needed. Again, seek support when needed or wanted.
  • If the discussions have not already started, talk about sexual feelings and the responsibilities that need to be considered upon acting on them with others.

Talking with Your Teen

Similar to earlier stages, your teen may seem less inclined to chat with you. Their independence has probably increased and they are attempting to make more decisions on their own. Yet, if they need something, you will most likely be told about their wants quickly. Again, continue to check-in and spark conversations with your teen. To do this consider asking your teen the following:

  • What do you need to help you be in your room and our home?
  • What was your high and your low today?
  • How can we support all of our decision-making while also helping each other grow from mistakes?
  • What household expectations are outdated?

Resources

A list of BLOOM's trusted resources to find more information and more support… VIEW ALL

Trusted Organizations
amaze
Amaze

AMAZE takes the awkward out of sex ed. Real info in fun, animated videos that give you all the answers you actually want to know.

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

The American Academy of Pediatrics is guided by its mission to ensure the health and well-being of all children.

The Puberty Prof

A nationally recognized & innovative health educator who provides tools to strengthen the wellness of children, youth, and adults.

Books, Apps, & Podcasts
The Talk Puberty App

Includes over 150 questions on the topic of puberty and growing up.

Common Questions Children Ask About Puberty
By Lori Reichel

The “Puberty Chit Chat Cards” help children and adults begin conversations in a fun and interactive manner.

Changing Bodies, Changing Lives: A Book for Teens on Sex and Relationships (Expanded Third Edition)
By Ruth Bell Alexander

Gives teens a thoughtful, empathetic, and personal look at sex, relationships and the many ways puberty affects emotional and physical health.

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