Puberty is a time of emotional and physical change in girls that begins around 8 years old and isn’t finished until her late teens, though this timeline isn’t hard and fast says pediatrician Cara Natterson. It’s completely normal for there to be wide variations in the onset and progression of the process of puberty. In girls, hips widen and breasts begin to grow, pubic hair starts to show and the great battle with acne begins. Natterson describes puberty as hormonal text messaging, with messages being sent from the brain to the organs and from the organs back to the brain.
During puberty, the first real outward sign of its onset is the development of breast buds, says Amy Lang. This usually happens around ten years old, though again can be variable. Breasts begin developing by swelling slightly as the nipple enlarges and becomes stiff. The classic marker of a girl’s progression through puberty is the start of menstruation, with most girls getting their first period in middle school, though this is widely variable. The average age is twelve and a half. There is a myth that menstruation is beginning earlier, but this isn’t the case according the Natterson. While the age of menstruation has stayed relatively constant in recent history, the other signs of puberty, such as the development of breast buds and the growth of pubic hair, are indeed coming earlier, thus extending the length of puberty in girls. While this is not something that parents should be concerned about, it is something they should be aware of, as they may notice that their daughters are experiencing a slightly different timeline in their process of development.
Throughout this process the brain is changing as much as the body is. JoAnn Deak points out that girl’s brains develop differently than boy’s brains. Girl’s areas of judgment develop a full two years before most boy’s, which is a huge factor in behavior and social interaction. Girls in general go through the processes of puberty much earlier than boys, growing taller and showing signs of physical development earlier. As their bodies develop and their brains change, girls experience wide variations in mood and emotion, and puberty can feel like a rollercoaster. That hormonal text messaging which triggers the developmental changes creates havoc with the mental state of young women.
The key for parents is to be patience and empathetic. The changes a girl goes through during this monumental time of change are most challenging for her, but helping her to understand what’s going on will help to allay her fears and make it easier for everyone.