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puberty and adolescence

Alternative Names 
pubescence, sexual maturation

Adolescence is the period of growth that bridges childhood and adulthood. This period includes puberty, or the development of sexual maturity. The physical changes of puberty result in both males and females being able to create babies. Adolescence begins when a child is 10 to 12 years old. It ends between the ages of 18 and 21.

Adolescence does not mean just physical growth. It also means emotional, social, and mental growth. Most teenagers complete puberty when they are 16 to 18 years old. This is an important time for young people to form their own identities, separate from their families, and prepare for their future as members of society.

What is the information for this topic? 
Hormones are released during puberty that aid in physical growth and sexual development.

Changes during puberty for boys include:
  • rapid increase in height and weight
  • increase in size of the penis and testicles
  • development of pubic and facial hair, and hair on other parts of the body
  • first ejaculation of semen from the penis, usually between the ages of 11 and 15
  • increase in muscle mass and strength
  • deepening of the voice
Changes during puberty for girls include:
  • increase in height and weight, with the fastest growth around the age of 12
  • breast development, which usually begins between the ages of 8 and 11
  • development of pubic and underarm hair
  • start of whitish vaginal secretions
  • first menstrual period, and the first release of an egg from the ovary. Menstruation can begin anywhere between the ages of 9 and 17. The average age is around 12. Menstrual periods may at first be irregular.
It's wise to start talking with children early about the physical changes they can expect. It's very common for them to have concerns and questions. Parents and doctors can help reassure boys and girls that they are growing normally. Everyone has their own timetable for starting puberty and developing. Early, frank talks can help encourage a positive body image.

Parents and doctors might be surprised when adolescents seek medical attention for what seem to be minor complaints. Sometimes they have a hidden concern about sex, pregnancy, or a sexually transmitted disease. Adolescents may become depressed, or have thoughts of suicide. Alcohol abuse or drug abuse are possible. Adolescents are more prone to accidents and injuries, and may need information about sports safety or exercise. Honest communication and thorough evaluation can help resolve problems and relieve stress. Parents can also provide support to help teenagers understand sexual feelings and behaviour and respect themselves.

Adolescents struggle to form an independent identity. Family ties can loosen as they look to friends to set standards for behaviour and style. They may begin dating and experimenting with sex. Conflicts between teenagers and parents can lead to stress. In short, adolescence presents many challenges. Doctors, counsellors, teachers, and the extended family may provide support. An adolescent with a loving support system and stable home life can meet challenges. He or she can enter adulthood as a caring, contributing member of the family.

Author: Barbara Mallari, RN, BSN, PHN
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 17/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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