When Your Child Reaches Puberty: Answers to Common Questions

Puberty is the stage of sexual development in boys and girls. It can be a confusing time for parents and children. Both you and your child may be uncomfortable talking about sex and body changes. And you may be worried about what's normal. Your child’s healthcare provider can also address questions or concerns that you have.

What is puberty?

Puberty is the stage of adolescence when a child begins to develop sexually into an adult. It usually starts between ages 9 and 14 in girls and ages 12 and 16 in boys. It lasts about 2 to 5 years.

My child is 15 and hasn’t started having periods. Should I be worried?

Periods don’t start until all parts of the reproductive system have matured. In the U.S., children generally start having their periods around age 12. But the normal range to begin having periods is anytime between ages 8 and 16. Some children start to develop later than most of their peers. Others start to develop earlier. This is usually normal and not a problem. Your child’s healthcare provider can monitor their maturation and watch for problems. Bring your child in for regular well-child checkups. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s growth and development, ask their provider. If your child hasn't begun their period by age 16, make an appointment to discuss it with their provider. 

My child has become very moody. Is this normal?

Moodiness is very common during puberty. You may see changes in your child’s personality. Your child may be less willing to spend time with you, may be much less interested in talking to you, and may develop new interests. All these changes are normal. Though moodiness is to be expected, some mood changes can mean depression . Symptoms of depression include:

  • Losing interest in things that they used to enjoy

  • Crying often

  • Withdrawing from friends and family

  • Being angry or enraged

  • Having a drop in grades or not taking part in school activities they used to enjoy

  • Talking about feeling worthless or hopeless

If you notice any of these signs, bring your child to see their healthcare provider right away.

What can I do to stay in my child’s life?

The best thing to do is to check in with your child often. Even if your child is sullen or doesn’t want to talk, continue to talk to them and ask for information about their life. It’s important that your child know you’re there to help guide them through what can be a difficult time. Make an effort to:

  • Know who your child’s friends are.

  • Know how your child spends their time.

  • Limit TV and computer time to 2 hours a day. It’s best to not let your child have a TV or computer in their room. Have the computer and TV in a common area, where use can be monitored. Think about not letting your child have their smartphone in their room. 

  • Plan for a family time that everyone is expected to attend. This could be a meal, a game, or other activity. Have family time daily, if possible, or at least a few days a week.

  • Ask your child questions about their day.

Don’t be discouraged if your child isn’t responsive at first. The point is to make it clear that you're engaged and open to talking. One way to open discussion is to ask about current events rather than personal issues. This lets your child talk about their feelings and experiences without the pressure of all the focus being on their life.

My 16-year-old is very focused on their appearance. Is this normal?

Teens become very focused on appearance during puberty. During puberty, regular bathing is important to help prevent body odor. It also helps with oily skin. So encourage good hygiene habits. But discourage your child from being obsessed with looks and image. Encourage your child to dress appropriately for their age. Limit makeup use. Keep in mind that your child may look mature physically, but emotionally they're still developing.

How much do I need to say about sex?

Sex can be an uncomfortable topic for parents and kids to discuss. But, for your child’s safety and health, it’s important that they knows the facts. Let your child know you're available to talk, then wait until they bring up the subject. You can also provide your child with a book or pamphlet from a trusted source to read on their own. But be sure to be available to answer questions. If you don’t feel able to talk to your child about sex, take them to their healthcare provider for a discussion about sex and sexual issues.

My son is growing breasts. Why is it happening?

About 3 in 5 boys develop breast tissue on 1 or both sides of the chest during puberty. This is called gynecomastia. Boys may find it both physically painful and embarrassing. Reassure your child that this breast tissue is common and completely normal. It usually goes away 1 or 2 years after it appears. If your child has a lot of pain or other concerns, they should see their healthcare provider.

How should I prepare my child for their period?

Getting a period is a normal part of puberty. To help make the transition less scary, talk to your child about their period before they get it. Let them know:

  • That a period is normal and nothing to be afraid of

  • How to use products like pads and tampons

  • How to deal with cramps

  • That they can talk to you about their periods

My child often stays locked in their room. I think they're masturbating. Should I be worried?

During puberty, when hormone levels are increasing, interest in sex greatly increases. Masturbation (pleasuring oneself sexually) is a common way that both boys and girls explore their sexuality and changing bodies. It's very normal and isn't harmful to your child. But it can be uncomfortable to talk about it. It’s good to let your child know you're available to answer questions.

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