Preparing for Puberty

I have an 11-year-old son, but don’t know what to expect when it comes to puberty. Can you fill me in?

Puberty is a time of great change for our children – both boys and girls. Most boys begin puberty between the ages of 9 and 14, but everyone is different so a boy could start earlier or later. Puberty lasts several years and most boys are fully developed by their late teens.

The first sign that puberty is starting is one you may not notice – your son’s testicles will become larger as his body begins to produce testosterone. Your son may or may not say something about it so you might not realize he’s started puberty until he hits a growth spurt. He’ll suddenly seem taller overnight and his body shape will change as his shoulders become wider and his muscles will seem more defined. During puberty – which can last two to three years – your son will continue to get taller. All of that growth requires fuel so don’t be surprised if your son’s appetite is huge. Be sure that he’s consuming healthy food and not just junk.

Puberty also means boys begin to perspire more, which means it’s time to start wearing deodorant. It’s also time to begin showering daily or make sure to wash the underarm area daily before putting on the deodorant.

As part of puberty, your son’s voice will deepen and his penis will also become larger. Teen boys also get erections when they’re either thinking about sex or sometimes for no reason at all. While your son may hear about sex and body changes from his friends – it’s likely that information isn’t completely accurate – it’s essential that you talk with him too Teen boys think about sex a lot so it’s essential to have an open dialogue and let him know you’re there to answer any questions he may have.

Another telltale sign of puberty is growing hair in places where there wasn’t hair before – under the arms, the pelvic area and the face. It’s one that many boys may be uncomfortable about so it’s important to let him know that it’s natural and nothing to be ashamed about. When his facial hair thickens, it will be time to start talking about shaving.

Acne, unfortunately, is another part of puberty. It’s triggered by hormones and usually begins to appear at the beginning of puberty and will last throughout the teen years. Since it’s highly visible and comes at a time when teen boys are more focused on their appearance, it can cause a lot of anguish. Work with your son on a good cleansing routine to help diminish its appearance. If over-the-counter remedies don’t help, ask your son’s doctor.

All of that testosterone coursing through your son’s body may also cause some behavior changes as his body adjusts. He may become oversensitive, anxious, lose his temper and become upset more easily. The good news is that he’ll hopefully grow out of these behaviors by the time he graduates high school.

The important thing to remember about puberty is that everyone goes through it at different times, but they all end up in the same place. So if your son’s best friend is suddenly six inches taller, tell him to don’t worry – he will catch up. 

By Luke Tremble, MD, pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians - Pediatrics in Appleton.