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?