Adolescence is a time of rapid growth in height and weight and of physical changes throughout the body. Most of these changes occur near the time of puberty, which in the United States and Canada usually begins for girls between the ages of 9 and 11, and for most boys between the ages of 9½ and 13.
Breast buds—slight elevation and enlargement of the nipple area—are one of the first signs of puberty in girls. Also, pubic hair usually starts growing around the same time. In boys, the first sign of puberty is that the testicles increase in size, followed by the growth of pubic hair and by penis lengthening.
Girls usually grow rapidly during early puberty. Then growth slows down with the first menstrual period (menarche), which most commonly happens sometime between ages 11 and 14. (It can happen as early as age 9 or up to age 15.) For boys, the height spurt occurs after other signs of puberty have developed. While boys lag behind girls in height in early adolescence, they typically end up being taller than girls. This happens because after growth starts, boys grow at a faster rate and for a longer period of time. Girls reach their approximate adult height around 16 years of age, and boys at about 18 years of age.
There has been a long-term trend toward earlier puberty and larger growth related to better health and nutrition. Also, race seems to affect the timing of puberty. For example, African American and Mexican American girls may have breast development earlier than Caucasian girls.
The surging hormones related to puberty often stimulate the sex drive in both males and females. It is normal for members of both genders to masturbate in private. Hormones may also trigger episodes of difficult behavior, such as challenging parents and other authority figures.
Growth in body parts may occur out of sync with each other. For example, the nose, arms, and legs may grow faster than the rest of the body. Other physical development during puberty usually includes:
- Bone growth, which increases your child's height.
- An increase in skull bone thickness. The forehead becomes more prominent and the jaw grows forward.
- Weight gain. A teen's weight almost doubles during adolescence.
- Changes in body fat composition. The amount of body fat in boys increases. And girls' existing body fat shifts to the pelvis, breasts, and upper back.
- An increase in the size of organs. The heart doubles in weight, and lung size increases.
- Growth of facial hair in boys. Hair growth usually starts on the upper lip, gradually reaches the cheeks, and then the chin area.
Gynecomastia, the development of breast tissue, occurs in many boys during early puberty to middle puberty. It usually goes away in 6 months to 2 years.
Other Works Consulted
- Bordini B, Rosenfield RL (2011). Normal pubertal development, Part II: Clinical aspects of puberty. Pediatrics in Review, 32(7): 281–291.
- Sass A, et al. (2014). Adolescence. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 117–157. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Current as of: August 21, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
John Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine