When Your Child Reaches Puberty: Answers to Common Questions

Puberty (the stage of sexual development in boys and girls) can be a confusing time for parents and children. Both you and your child may be uncomfortable talking about sex and body changes. And you may be worried about what is “normal.” Your child’s health care provider can also address questions or concerns that you have.

What is puberty?

Puberty is the stage of adolescence when a child begins to develop sexually into an adult. Puberty usually begins between ages 9 and 14 in girls and ages 12 and 16 in boys. It lasts about 2 to 5 years.

My daughter is 15 and hasn’t started having periods. Should I be worried?

Periods don’t start until all parts of a girl’s reproductive system have matured. In the U.S., girls generally start having their periods around age 12. But the normal range for girls to begin having periods is anytime between the ages of 8 and 16. Some children begin to develop later than most of their peers. Others begin to develop earlier. This is usually normal and not a problem. Your child’s health care provider can monitor your son or daughter’s maturation and watch for problems. Bring your child in for regular well-child checkups. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s growth and development, ask your child’s health care provider.

My child has become very moody. Is this normal?

Moodiness is very common during puberty. You may see changes in your child’s personality. Your child may be less willing to spend time with you, may be much less interested in talking to you, and may develop new interests. All these changes are normal. Though moodiness is to be expected, some mood changes can mean depression. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Losing interest in things that he or she used to enjoy

  • Crying often

  • Withdrawing from friends and family

  • Being angry or enraged

  • Having a drop in grades

  • Talking about feeling worthless or hopeless

If you notice any of these signs, bring your child to see his or her health care provider right away.

What can I do to stay in my child’s life?

The best thing to do is to check in with your child often. Even if your child is sullen or doesn’t want to talk, continue to talk to your child and ask for information about his or her life. It’s important that your child know you’re there to help guide him or her through what can be a difficult time. Make an effort to:

  • Know who your child’s friends are.

  • Know how your child spends his or her time.

  • Limit TV and computer time to 2 hours a day. It’s best to not let your child have a TV or computer in his or her room. Have the computer and TV in a common area, where use can be monitored.

  • Plan for a family time that everyone is expected to attend. This could be a meal, a game, or other activity. Have family time daily, if possible, or at least a few days a week.

  • Ask your child questions about his or her day.

Don’t be discouraged if your child isn’t responsive at first. The point is to make it clear that you are engaged and open to discussion. One way to open discussion is to ask about current events rather than personal issues. This lets your child talk about his feelings and experiences without the pressure of all the focus being on his life.

My 16-year-old son is very focused on appearance. Is this normal?

Teens become very focused on appearance during puberty. Though it can disrupt routines and try family members’ patience. During puberty, regular bathing is important to help prevent body odor and helps with oily skin. So encourage good hygiene habits. But discourage your child from becoming obsessed with looks and image. Encourage your child to dress appropriately for his or her age. Limit makeup use. Keep in mind that your child may look mature physically, but emotionally he or she is still developing.

How much do I need to say about sex?

Sex can be an uncomfortable topic for parents and kids to discuss. But, for your child’s safety and health, it’s important that he or she knows the facts. Let your child know you are available to talk, then wait until your child brings up the subject. You can also provide your child with a book or pamphlet from a trusted source to read on his or her own. But be sure to be available to answer questions. If you don’t feel able to talk to your child about sex, take your child to his or her health care provider for a discussion about sex and sexual issues.

My son is growing breasts. Why is it happening?

About 60% of boys develop breast tissue on one or both sides of the chest during puberty. This is called gynecomastia. Boys may find it both physically painful and embarrassing. Reassure your son that this breast tissue is common and completely normal. It usually goes away a year or 2 after it appears. If your son has a lot of pain or other concerns, he should see his health care provider.

How should I prepare my daughter for her period?

Getting a period is a normal part of puberty. To help make the transition less scary, talk to your daughter about her period BEFORE she gets it. Let your daughter know:

  • That a period is normal and nothing to be afraid of

  • How to use feminine products like pads and tampons

  • How to deal with cramps

  • That she can talk to you about her periods

My son often locks himself in his room. I think he’s masturbating. Should I be worried?

During puberty, when hormone levels are increasing, interest in sex greatly increases. Masturbation (pleasuring oneself sexually) is a common way that both boys and girls explore their sexuality and changing bodies. It is very normal and is not harmful to your child. But, it can be uncomfortable to talk about masturbation. It’s good to let your child know you are available to answer questions.