Puberty refers to the period of sexual maturation. Puberty is when the child experiences physical, hormonal, and sexual changes and becomes capable of reproduction. It is associated with rapid growth and the appearance of secondary sexual characteristics.
When a healthy child is somewhere between nine and 16 years old, he or she will enter puberty. The exact age depends on factors such as heredity and nutrition and whether the child is a boy or girl. On average, boys enter puberty 2 years later than girls. At this time, the pituitary and hypothalamus glands in the brain (endocrine glands) begin sending out new hormones that trigger the changes of puberty.
Both boys and girls usually experience sudden gains in height and weight. The hormones will regulate and help determine the person's body build (whether the person tends to be tall or short, thin or heavy, and so on).
The hormones also cause secondary sex characteristics and interest in sex. In girls, the ovaries begin to increase production of estrogen and other "female" hormones. In boys, the testicles increase production of testosterone.
The sweat glandss become more active. The sweat produced has a slightly different content than when the child was small (it begins to develop more of an odor). Oil glands become more active, and acne may appear.
At this time the importance of personal hygiene becomes apparent and it is important for boys and girls who are beginning to mature to pay attention to regular bathing and other aspects of hygiene. The adolescent may find that an underarm deodorant or antiperspirant becomes necessary.
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2 Puberty in boys
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Puberty in girls
Puberty usually occurs in girls between 9 and 16 years old. The start of menstrual periods (menarche) is one of the most visible signs that a girl is entering puberty. Before having the first menstrual period, the pubescent girl will normally experience:
Every month (approximately), an ovary releases one egg. This egg travels along the Fallopian tube, which connects the ovary to the uterus. In about 3 or 4 days the ovum reaches the uterus. During this time, the lining of the uterus (endometrium) begins to thicken by filling with blood and fluid. This happens so that if the ovum is fertilized, it can grow in this thickened lining to produce a baby.
If the egg is not fertilized, it dissolves and the endometrium drains off, out of the uterus through the vagina, causing a menstrual period. In between the menstrual periods, there may be a clear or whitish vaginal discharge. This is normal.
Menstrual cycles occur over about one month (28 to 32 days). At first, the menstrual periods typically are irregular. The girl may go two months between periods, or may have 2 periods in one month. Over time, these will become more regular. The girl may want to keep track of when she has a menstrual period, and how long the period lasts, on a calendar. This can help her to see what her individual pattern is, and can help her predict when she will have the next menstrual period.
Generally, the different phases of the menstrual cycle are not uncomfortable and the majority of girls will not notice any problems. Cramping, when present, is usually mild. Severe menstrual cramping should be evaluated by a physician. There may, however, be other cyclic changes -- for example, just before or during a menstrual period the girl may feel "moody" or emotional, and may feel puffy or swollen. PMS (premenstrual syndrome) may begin to develop, especially as the girl gets older.
In girls, maturation is usually complete by age 17. Subsequently, any increases in height beyond this age are uncommon. Although full physical maturity has been reached educational and emotional maturity remain ongoing processes. It is important to remember that fertility (often present as early as 12 years of age) precedes emotional maturity and pregnancy can, and often does, occur before an adolescent is equipped for parenthood.
Puberty in boys
Puberty usually occurs in boys between 13 and 15 years old. Unlike girls, there is no clearcut sign that tells a boy that he has entered puberty. However, boys will normally experience:
The five stages in the sexual development of boys
The testes constantly manufacture sperm. While some sperm can be stored in a structure called the epididymis, the stored sperm must be occasionally released as part of the normal process to make room for new sperm. This can occur automatically during sleep (known as a nocturnal emission or "wet dream") or following masturbation or sexual intercourse. Nocturnal emissions may be a common concern for young men entering puberty but they should be reassured that is a normal part of maturation.