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Puberty is the word used to describe the physical and emotional changes that happen for boys and girls as they become adults.

It happens at different times for different children. It usually begins sometime between 9 to 14 years old. Puberty is not a quick process, usually taking around 4 years for the physical changes to complete and the emotional changes often takes much longer.

Puberty can be a confusing time for young people as there are a lot of changes in the chemicals in the body (hormones) and in the way they think and feel. Finding out about what happens in puberty can help you understand your child better and give you more confidence to support them.


Puberty for Girls 

The average age girls start to notice changes is around 11 years old.

  • The first sign is often the beginnings of breast growth – this varies from person to person.
  • Body hair will grow.
  • They will sweat more (and it may smell).
  • They may start getting spots and pimples.
  • They grow! (about 2 – 3 inches a year).
  • Their body shape will change- their hips will widen, waist gets narrower and they will have more body fat on arms, legs and upper back. This is normal and as long as children keep active and eat healthily is nothing to worry about.
  • Periods (menstruation) usually begin round two years after you first notice early signs of puberty. *Click Here* for more information about how periods work.

Puberty for Boys

The average age boys start to notice changes is around 12 years old.

  • The first sign is often testicles (balls) getting bigger and the skin of the scrotum (the sac that holds the testicles) getting thinner and redder.
  • Body and facial hair grows, getting thicker and curlier as puberty progresses.
  • Their voice will get deeper, as this happens your child’s voice might sometimes go squeaky or deep.
  • Their penis will sometimes be erect. This can happen without warning, sometimes because of sexual feelings, sometimes for no reason at all.
  • They may notice some swelling around their nipples, this does not last and it is normal.
  • They have a growth spurt (about 3 inches a year) and become more muscular.
  • You can help your child get through the physical and emotional challenges that puberty brings. Find out about what happens for your child during puberty, this will help you be prepared for the bumps along the way.

    • Talk to your children from an early age about their minds, bodies and how they work.
    • It is never too late to start the chat. There are books and websites that can help.
    • Spend some time reminding yourself what will be happening physically and emotionally to your child; this will help you feel more confident in helping your child understand.
    • Make sure they have the things they need to cope with the physical changes like deodorant and sanitary products.
    • Your child may start to ‘act out’ and their behaviour may become more challenging. Keep your house rules and boundaries.
    • Be sensitive to the huge changes your child is experiencing – they are probably finding it hard to understand why they are behaving this way too.
    • Encourage your child to work towards independence – how much, and when will vary from child to child.
    • Support your child to take on more responsibilities such as cooking meals or walking the dog. This can help them, and you, develop confidence in their ability.
    • Be prepared for your child to be more questioning of the choices you make and the way you behave – it can be a shock when your child no longer thinks you know everything! This is an important developmental step towards independence.
    • Think about your own behaviours – your child is watching, and you are still an important role model.
    • Take advantage of the moments when your child wants your love and affection, they often need this more than they like to say.
    • Be tuned in to when your child needs privacy. Embarrassment can come along with the changes.
    • Be mindful that this can be a time when children make the wrong choices about the people they hangout with, and the decisions they make – watch out for signs that they may be out of their depth and need your support and advice.
    • Seek support for yourself from friends and family, maybe from those who have gone through this with their own children.
  • You might notice changes in your child's mood. One minute they might be full of energy and fun, and the next be tired and grumpy.

    Changes you might notice are that they are;

    • Angry and irritable
    • Tearful and / or low in mood
    • Have low self–esteem
    • Challenge your rules and opinions.

    These swings in mood during puberty are very common. Occasionally it can be a symptom of a mental health problem. There is more information *here* on when you might need to get more support for your child.

    Young people may experience their first ‘crush’ during puberty. Crushes are very common at this stage. A crush is usually a harmless attraction to someone else. It can be very powerful and confusing. They can be for their friend, or sometimes for an adult they really admire like a teacher or a celebrity.


    The feelings are strong and very normal. The feelings could be for someone of the opposite sex, or for someone of the same sex. This does not necessarily show what the young person’s sexuality will be in the longer term.

    Reassure your child that these feelings are normal. Do not tease your child about this – this person is an important part of their life right now, their feelings are very real.

    Adults should be able to be kind, but keep firm boundaries if they discover a young person has a crush on them. If you are worried an adult is taking advantage of your child’s feelings you should talk to your child about this and seek further advice if you are worried.

  • One of the common changes that happens in puberty is young people start to get spots, blackheads and pimples. This is really difficult for them as it comes at a time when they  are often more self conscious about their appearance. It is because of hormonal changes, not because of dirty skin. However, keeping skin clean will help. There is more information on acne *here*

    There are many products available to buy to help with skin problems. The best place to get advice at first on what will help your child is your local pharmacist. Find your nearest pharmacy *here*.

  • It is common to see a real change in body shape. In early puberty you may worry your child is putting on weight. Girls especially see an increase in their body fat. 

    If your child is active and eats a wide range of healthy foods it usually settles as they grow taller.

    If your child is inactive, or does not eat healthily, this can make it harder for them to keep at a healthy weight. This may be a good time for the whole family to think about being more active, and introducing more healthy foods. Look at this healthy lifestyles information for ideas on making the change together.

  • Hormonal changes also mean body hair grows – how much hair, and where it grows varies from person to person. It will grow on faces, underarms and around their private parts. There is no ‘right amount of hair’. Tell your child to try not to compare themselves with others. Your child may feel proud of this or they may feel self conscious.

    Some young people feel keen to remove the hair – this is down to personal choice.

Who Can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below. 


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