Physical and Emotional changes for Girls and Boys around Puberty

Puberty is the time when all your major organs and body systems mature. At the end of puberty, you are sexually and reproductively mature. The growth and development that occurs during puberty is prompted by changes in the levels of certain hormones in your body.

Hormonal changes begin in the mid-primary school years, but puberty properly starts at around ten years for girls and eleven years for boys. Everyone is different – you may start puberty earlier or later.

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The physical changes that happen for girls around puberty include: 

  • Body shape – Your hips will widen and your body will get curvier.
  • Height – You will grow taller.
  • Acne – You may develop acne, most commonly on the face, neck, shoulders, upper back, and chest. Hormonal changes during puberty cause acne in teens.
  • Breast growth and tenderness – The first stage of breast growth is called ‘budding’. The breasts may tender during this time. This is normal but speak with your doctor if it worries you.
  • Hair growth – Hair will grow around the pubic area and under your arms, and hair on your legs and arms will darken.
  • Vaginal discharge – You may get a clear or whitish discharge from your vagina. This is a normal, natural self-cleaning process.
  • Periods – Your menstrual periods will start. Periods are part of a monthly cycle where the lining of the uterus thickens as the body gets ready for pregnancy. Once a month, the lining is shed over a few days, if a pregnancy has not happened.

The physical changes that happen for boys around puberty include:

  • Height and muscle growth – You will get taller and stronger and grow muscle.
  • Acne – You may develop acne, most commonly on the face, neck, shoulders, upper back, and chest.
  • Voice changes – Your voice will get deeper.
  • Hair growth – Body hair grows around the pubic area, legs, under the arms, and on the face. It starts off fine and then gets thicker and darker.
  • Genital growth – Your testicles and penis will get bigger. It is normal for one testicle to be bigger than the other. Some boys worry about their penis size, but sexual function, including the ability to have sex and father children do not depend on penis size.
  • Wet dreams – You may have wet dreams, where you ejaculate in your sleep. This is a normal part of growing up.

As puberty advances, both boys and girls experience many emotional changes; for many, it is a time of choosing different ways of engaging with family, friends, and teachers. Emotional changes sometimes occur before the physical changes of puberty.

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You may find that you are:

  • experiencing a greater sense of self
  • starting to have a sexual interest in other people
  • experiencing changes in mood, energy and sleep patterns.

Emotional challenges that may emerge include:

  • coping with a changing body and feeling self-conscious about looks
  • feeling frustrated when you cannot achieve what you want to achieve and getting angry.