What is puberty?
Puberty is the period during which growing boys or girls undergo the process of sexual maturation. In other words, puberty is the time when a young person’s sexual and reproductive organs mature. Before any physical changes happen, the body starts making hormones that trigger sexual development and growth. Puberty involves a series of physical stages or steps that lead to the achievement of fertility and the development of the so-called secondary sex characteristics, the physical features associated with adult males and females (such as the growth of pubic hair). The testes in the male produce the sex hormone called testosterone that brings about the male secondary sex characteristics while the ovaries of the female produce the oestrogen and progesterone.
When does puberty occur?
The onset of puberty varies among individuals. Puberty usually occur in girls between the ages of 10 and 14, while in boys it generally occurs later, between the ages of 12 and 16. In some African-American girls, puberty begins earlier, at about age 9, meaning that puberty occurs from ages 9 to 14. Adolescent girls reach puberty today at earlier ages than were ever recorded previously. Nutritional and other environmental influences may be responsible for this change.
Physical changes for girls at puberty
The physical changes that happen for girls around puberty include:
· Height – they will grow taller
· Curves develop – their hips will widen and their body will get curvier
· Breasts start to form – the first stage is called ‘budding’. Sometimes, the breasts are of different sizes. This is completely normal.
· Hair growth – hair will start to grow around the pubic area and under the arms, and hair on the legs and arms will darken
· Vaginal discharge – they might start to get a clear or whitish discharge from the vagina. This is a natural self-cleaning process and is completely normal
· Periods – menstrual periods will start, where they bleed from the vagina each month. Periods are part of a monthly cycle where the body gets ready for pregnancy.
Physical Changes for Boys at Puberty
The physical changes that happen for boys around puberty include:
· Height and muscle – they will get taller and stronger and start to grow muscle
· Genitals – their testicles and penis will get bigger. It is normal for one testicle to be bigger than the other.
· Hair growth – body hair starts to grow around the pubic area, legs, under the arms and on the face.
· Voice changes – their voice gets deeper. This is sometimes called ‘voice breaking’ because of the ups and downs in voice tone
· Wet dreams – they might have wet dreams, where they ejaculate in their sleep. This is a completely normal part of growing up
· Erections – sometimes erections happen when they get nervous or excited, or for no reason at all, which can make them feel embarrassed.
· Breast changes – they might get some breast growth and tenderness. This is a normal response to the changing hormones in their body and will eventually go away.
Menstruation is a woman’s monthly bleeding. When you menstruate, your body sheds the lining of the uterus (womb). Menstrual blood flows from the uterus through the small opening in the cervix and passes out of the body through the vagina. Most menstrual periods last from 3 to 5 days.
It is a major stage of puberty in girls; it’s one of the many physical signs that a girl is turning into a woman. The start of periods is known as menarche. Menarche doesn’t happen until all the parts of a girl’s reproductive system have matured and are working together. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long. Cycles can range anywhere from 21 to 35 days in adults and from 21 to 45 days in young teens.
Body image is the way a person feels about his/her physical appearance. People have differences in the physical appearances like:
· Size or shape of the body
· Colour of the skin, eyes and hair.
Some of these differences may be valued, while others may not. For instance, being tall may give a male more prestige among his peers. A short man may then feel bad about his body. A person with lighter skin colour may be assumed to be more beautiful than someone with darker skin.
Emotional Changes for Girls and Boys at Puberty
Along with the many physical changes, a lot of emotional changes happen around puberty for both boys and girls. These include:
· Coping with a changing body – young people have to deal with sudden physical changes. They now have a new body shape and might start to feel self-conscious about how they look. They might feel embarrassed if they think they are different from their friends. Other people might start to treat them differently. For example, if they look older, they might be treated as an older person
· Frustration because they feel different – it can be difficult coping with early physical changes or frustrating waiting for them to happen.
· Mood swings – the sudden release of hormones into a young person’s body can bring about extreme emotions and mood swings, but this is only temporary and will settle after a while.
· Energy changes – the physical growth and other changes can make a young person feel full of energy one minute and tired the next.
Tests and Exercises
1. The lining or inner layer of the uterus is called (a) vagina (b) cervix (c) endometrium (d) Epididymis Answer: Endometrium
2. Muscle growth during puberty occurs (a) only in males (b) only in females (c) in both genders (d) very slowly in females Answer: Only in males
3. When an adolescent’s facial hair starts growing, or acne develops, or breasts start to grow, or the genitals start to change, which organ in the body are these changes directly caused by? (a) the hypothalamus (b) the adrenal glands (c) the pituitary gland (d) the ovaries or testicles Answer: The ovaries or testicles
4. The first sign of puberty for girls is usually (a) breast budding (b) the first period (c) growth of pubic hair (d) acne Answer: Breast budding
5. The first periods (menstruation) is known as (a) menstrual cycle (b) anarche (c) menarche (d) ovulation Answer: Menarche
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