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The age at which puberty starts will vary person to person. Girls can start puberty as young as 8 or as old as 15 but the average age is 11. Boys can start puberty as young as 10 or as old as 16 but the average is 13. Often, girls and boys will experience some emotional changes before any physical changes e.g. moodiness.

Children need us to prepare them for the changes puberty before it happens to them.

What starts puberty off?

The onset of puberty is triggered my genetic and environmental factors. The strongest genetic link is between mothers and daughters – daughters are more likely to start puberty at the same age their mother did than sons are with their fathers. Environmentally, puberty is triggered by body mass, which would partly explain why children are starting puberty younger – this generation compared with those in the 1960’s are generally better fed and heavier at a younger age.

Puberty begins when an area of the brain called the hypothalamus starts to release gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH). When GnRH travels to the pituitary gland (a small gland under the brain that produces hormones that control other glands throughout the body), it releases two more puberty hormones – luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).

What happens next depends on a child’s sex. For males, the hormones travel through the bloodstream to the testicles and give the signal to begin production of sperm and the hormone testosterone. For females, the hormones go to the ovaries and trigger the maturation and release of eggs and the production of the hormone estrogen, which triggers the female body changes.

What changes happen to both boys and girls?

  • Feet and hands get bigger
  • Legs and arms lengthen
  • Nose and jaw both become more prominent – men’s faces alter more than women’s
  • Hairline recedes a bit
  • Voice box gets bigger and this makes the voice deeper – males more so than females as
  • The voice box is bigger
  • Hair under arms and pubic hair
  • Skin is more oily which can lead to spots
  • Sweat more/changes smell

For younger children, a fun way to talk through the changes can be using a ‘bodymap’. Using a roll of lining paper, draw round your child and, together, draw or right on the body outline the changes that will happen. Here’s an example of one :

 We have a great booklet about puberty and growing up.

RSHPE lessons cover puberty in P5 & P6 with a refresher in S1 and there are also some great books you can borrow from your local library.There are also some great books you can borrow from your local library.