Puberty is challenging and your young person will experience a lot of changes during the various changes of puberty. Learn how to support them below.
Puberty is a time when your young person’s body changes in preparation for sexual maturity. Puberty usually starts when your child is 8-10 and lasts 5-7 years, though everyone develops at their own rate and pace. Learn more about the stages of puberty, also called the Tanner Stages of Puberty or Sexual Maturity Rating.
With all these changes, you may be wondering how you can help prepare and support your young person. We at BLOOM have put together a comprehensive guide to providing your young person with the right support every step of the way.
Tanner Stage 1: Brain Work
Somewhere between the ages of 8 to 10, your young person will enter Tanner Stage 1, or the physiological changes of puberty.
Hormones will course through their body, stimulating growth of their:
- External reproductive organs
- Breast tissue
How to Support Your Preteen During Tanner Stage 1
During this stage, start researching what changes will occur. Check out our Puberty Hub, for the best expert-backed information and resources.
You can also share these resources with your young person, and talk about what they 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 8-10 Year Old
Many health professionals recommend talking with your young person before they begin going through 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.
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?
Tanner Stage 2: Their Body Starts to Change
This usually occurs between the ages of 9 and 11. Your young person might start to notice:
- Pubic hair grows lightly on the outer lips of the vulva and/or at the base of the penis.
- Armpit hair.
- Body odor.
- Maturing reproductive parts. For most assigned females at birth, this includes the uterus and vagina. For most assigned males at birth, this includes the testicles and the scrotum.
- Many assigned females develop breasts under the nipples, which are called buds. Learn more about breast and nipple development.
How to Support Your Preteen During Tanner Stage 2
As your young person starts to develop physically, continue your research about what to expect and how to handle these occurrences. This can include:
- Reviewing hygiene habits. Meet as a family to remind everyone to:
- Change undergarments/underwear regularly, including after physical activities.
- Wash their 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 their 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 to help people find supportive clothing, like bras (if they choose to wear one) and underwear, by accurately measuring a person’s size.
- Recognize that your tween’s mood might change quickly, from time to time. To cope with this, help your family members practice effective communication skills.
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 or want more space. 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?
Tanner Stage 3: More Obvious Body Changes
Usually, at Stage 3, we notice a lot of physical changes, such as a growth spurt, increased body hair, muscle development, armpit hair, acne, wet dreams, a cracking voice, and more.
How to Support Your Preteen or Teen During Tanner Stage 3
The physical changes during Tanner Stage 3 can bring a variety of new experiences for you and your preteen or teen, and they may want to spend more time with you or may seek 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.
Respect their privacy, by revisiting the household expectations and inquiring if additional ones are needed. Consider adding expectations like 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.
To help with grooming, consider teaching your preteen or teen healthy habits for hair maintenance or removal. Learn more about body hair and hair removal here.
If your preteen or teen experiences growing pains, check in with your medical professional. Let them know these aches and pains are occurring so they can provide specific advice to help. Advice may include stretching exercises, massage, as well as other options.
Lastly, be aware of how you speak about yourself and your body in front of your preteen or teen. As their body changes, they become more aware of how we, as adults, look at ourselves.
So ask yourself:
- Do you critique 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
Even if your young person wants more privacy, make an effort 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?
Tanner Stage 4: Obvious Body Changes Occur
You young person is no longer a tween — 13-14 years old. During this stage, many teenagers notice:
- Thicker pubic hair
- For many females assigned at birth:
- Their first period (menarche)
- Fuller breasts
- For many males assigned at birth:
- Bigger penis, scrotum, and testicles
- A deeper voice
- Armpit hair
How to Support Your Teen Through Tanner Stage 4
To successfully support your teen:
Talk About Personal Grooming
Though you may not see their increased pubic hair, have a conversation about how to properly care for this hair, including when it gets more “bushy.” Just like grooming other body hair, pubic hair can also be maintained in different ways if they choose.
Let Them Choose Their Clothes
As their body changes, continue discussing with your young person their preference for different clothing requests. They may not have cared about clothing before but as their body changes, they may now have more preferences as they become more responsible or attracted to others.
Be Period Positive
Discuss with all family members the available menstrual cycle supplies, 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.
Practice Good Habits
Remind them of healthy hygiene habits, including washing their face in the morning and evening, as well as after fitness activities. Enforce healthy nutritional habits, such as eating plenty of whole foods, fruits, and vegetables.
Acne and Changes Due to Puberty
Be prepared for some embarrassment. Suddenly a voice “crack” or a new pimple in the middle of their forehead is not always a comfortable experience. Add on getting a period unexpectedly or a spontaneous erection … and that can increase your tween or teen’s anxiety and embarrassment. Remind everyone of household expectations, including how to act loving and kind and how to tell another person when their “joking comments” have gone too far.
If your teen is concerned about acne, visit BLOOM’s Healthy Skincare section for tips and tools for managing.
Have Honest Conversations
Have honest conversations about body image, including how the media displays many unhealthy and unrealistic shapes and sizes. To further support this:
- Encourage your teen and yourself to try 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 how technology can be helpful, yet also hurtful. For example, the increased use of social media has been correlated with an 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 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 flier of youth events out for your teen to explore.
- How can our family be healthier physically? Emotionally? Mentally? Socially?
Tanner Stage 5: Final Stages of Puberty
This last stage usually starts at age 15 and is when your teen’s body will grow more adult-like and adult-size. During this stage:
- Their growth will starts to slow.
- Pubic hair fully grows in and spreads to the inner thigh area.
- Genitals and reproductive organs fully develop.
- For many females assigned at birth:
- Breast size and body shape including hip and buttocks areas form. Both breasts and body shape can continue to change as a person ages.
- Periods become regular.
- For many males assigned at birth
- Facial hair grows.
- Penis, testicles, and scrotum reach their full size.
Supporting Your Teen Through Tanner Stage 5
Continue to support 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 talking to your teen about hair maintenance and/or removal with your teen. If shaving is something they are interested in, make sure to go over the proper steps of shaving both verbally as well as physically modeling what to do. If they want to try other hair removal techniques, discuss the pros and cons of each, including the required maintenance and cost.
As a way to continue to support their mental, emotional, and social changes, make sure you’ve 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 you haven’t already broached the subject, talk about sexual feelings and the responsibilities that need to be considered upon acting on them with others.
Talking With Your Teen
Even at this stage of puberty, your teen may seem less inclined to chat with you. They probably are more independent and attempt 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?