9 Physical Changes That Occur During Puberty In Boys & Girls

Physical changes during puberty differ in boys and girls. However, both males and females attain marked physical growth during puberty. This is when a child transitions to adulthood physically, mentally, and emotionally. These changes may begin at different times in each child. Some may have early puberty, while slightly delayed in a few.

Secondary sexual characteristics develop in puberty. For example, girls may begin to menstruate, while boys have mustaches and beards coming in, and their voices deepen. In this article, we have tried to list the physical changes that occur during puberty. Read on to know more about physical changes in puberty for boys and girls and seek medical care if puberty is delayed.

The growth spurt starts at about 13 years
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10 Physical Changes During Puberty

Some major changes occur in adolescent boys and girls. During this period, the body starts to develop and grow into physical maturity. This is the time when your body will start developing all the secondary sexual characteristics. Many teens and families are hesitant to discuss body changes. It is important to speak to your child before these changes to know what to expect and reach out to your pediatrician if you have any concerns.

Physical Changes In Girls During Puberty:

The physical changes for females during puberty experience are marked by the following features of growth (1):

  1. Puberty in girls is marked by the start of the menstruation cycle, commonly referred to as periods.
protip_icon Point to consider
Some girls may experience a clear or white discharge from the vagina several months before periods start. If your girl is bothered by the discharge, you can advise her to use a panty liner. Consult your doctor if it’s itchy, painful, or smelly (1).
Puberty in girls is marked by the start of periods

Image: Shutterstock

  1. During adolescence, significant physical changes occur, including breast development, which typically reaches full growth by the age of 18 (2).
  2. Hair growth in the pubic area and the armpits are also observed. The growth of pubic hair may be the first sign of puberty in some girls.
  3. The adolescent years are also marked by a rapid growth spurt. In girls this growth spurt starts at the age of 11 or usually around the time she reaches menarche and slows down by the age of 16 (3).
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Other typical puberty changes in girls may include wider hips, acne on the face, neck, shoulders, upper back, and chest, sweating under the armpits, and an increase in body odor (1).

Physical Changes In Boys During Puberty:

The physical changes during puberty for males that occur are different in a number of ways. The developments that a boy undergoes during adolescence are (4):

  1. In boys, the scrotum and the testicles start to grow when they reach puberty.
  2. The penis also increases in length and reaches the proper adult size and shape by the age of 17 or 18 (5).
  3. Facial hair, as well as hair growth in the pubis area, armpits, and chest, have been observed. This usually starts around the age of 12; by the time the boy reaches 18 years, the pattern of body hair growth resembles those of adults.
  4. The growth spurt starts at about 13 years and continues on to about 18 years of age. After that, the growth slows down (3).
Growth spurt is the major physical change during puberty in males

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Adolescent boys commonly experience voice changes as a part of their physical transformation. Their vocal cords grow and as a result, the voice pitch changes into a heavier tone.
protip_icon Did you know?
Due to hormonal changes, some boys may experience minor swelling in the area of their breasts and it usually resolves in one to two years (8).

How To Help An Adolescent To Cope With The Changes?

Here are some points to keep in mind as your adolescent goes through these changes (4) (5):

  • It is important to remember that though the physical development in adolescence is rapid, the mental faculties are still in the developmental stage.
  • With adolescence comes a whole new range of emotions, a new found sense of responsibility and freedom, and a lot of physical changes. The child is sometimes unable to keep pace with all the changes occurring in its body.
  • Most times, adolescents distance themselves from their parents and tend to resort to their peer group for answers. It is at this point that you as the parent need to step forward and be a friend and guide to your child.
Step forward and be a friend and guide to your teen

Image: Shutterstock

Lucinda, a mother, shares her own experience with puberty and how she supports her young daughter going through the same. She says, “I went through puberty being bad tempered, obstinate and misunderstood… But now I see my daughter of 13 having mood swings and I want to know more of that. I want to be there for her notwithstanding my limitations and own life challenges.

“We talk more about her life and day to day experiences. Thank God she (her daughter) likes the attention. So my asking her a lot of questions is not ‘awkward.’ She also shares her experiences with her older sisters, sometime they appear to be a better counselors just because they are more aware of the ‘signs of the time.’ One thing I know for sure is that my daughter of 13 can count on 3 people being actively involved with her puberty (i)!”

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How does the onset of puberty differ among girls of different ethnicities?

Girls of different ethnicities may experience differences in the onset of puberty. Studies indicate that African American girls tend to enter puberty earlier and have their first menstrual period earlier than Caucasian and Hispanic girls. It has also been observed that the trend toward earlier puberty timing has been happening faster in African American girls. The exact causes of these racial disparities in pubertal development are not fully understood. Therefore, further research is needed to explore potential genetic and environmental factors (10).

2. What are some common concerns or questions that girls have during puberty?

During puberty, girls experience significant physical and emotional changes, which can raise concerns and questions about different things. Some of them are what to expect from the first period and how to manage menstruation. They can also have queries about breast development and body changes, such as acne and secondary hair growth in the underarm and pubic area. Strategies to navigate social and emotional issues and exploring sexuality are some other domains that girls may seek guidance for.

3. How do hormonal changes during puberty affect girls’ moods and behavior?

Hormonal fluctuations during puberty can lead to heightened emotional sensitivity and variability, which may cause girls to experience mood swings. They may also become more reactive to stress, making them more susceptible to experiencing anxiety or irritability. Hormone-induced physical changes during puberty may make girls more aware of their bodies and influence behaviors related to body images, such as an increased focus on appearance, comparisons with others, and increased sensitivity to criticism (11).

4. Can intense physical activity during puberty delay the onset of menstruation?

Intense physical activity during puberty may delay the onset of menstruation in some girls. The combination of high levels of physical activity, low body fat percentage, and energy imbalance may disrupt hormonal patterns and suppress the reproductive system. However, it’s important to note that individual factors, genetic predisposition, and overall health also affect the timing of menstruation onset. Consulting a healthcare professional can provide a more accurate assessment of an individual’s specific circumstances.

5. How does testosterone affect not only physical changes but also mental and emotional changes in boys?

Puberty causes a surge in testosterone production. Increased testosterone levels with other physical changes and social pressure may cause emotional outbursts and moody behavior in boys. Research shows that increased testosterone production can also influence brain development, affecting mood, behavior, and cognitive functions. It can increase aggression and risk-taking behavior and influence self-confidence, motivation, and sexual drive (12) (13).

The physical changes during puberty in males and females can be overwhelming at times. Significant developments, such as hair growth in private areas, deepening voice in males, menstruation in females, may be confusing and quite a lot to take in. Therefore, this phase is when they need your utmost attention as their parents. Talk them through this phase, or better yet, it may be more beneficial to educate them beforehand and prepare them for changes they may experience as they proceed towards adulthood.

Infographic: Common Physical Changes In Boys And Girls During Puberty

Both boys and girls experience physical changes during puberty other than developing secondary sexual characteristics. Check out the below infographic to know the common physical changes during teenage years to know if there is a delay.

10 physical changes that occur during puberty in boys and girls(infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

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Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Boys and girls experience different physical changes during puberty.
  • Girls typically start their growth spurt around age 11, while boys start at age 13.
  • Puberty brings about secondary sexual traits such as menstrual cycles for girls and deeper voices for boys.
  • Boys’ hair growth pattern may resemble that of adults, while girls may develop breasts and wider hips.
  • Teenagers may feel overwhelmed by the changes during puberty, so parents should be supportive and understanding.


Explore puberty’s physical and emotional changes in this video, focusing on hormones and their effects on our bodies during this transformative phase.

Personal Experience: Source

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Physical development in girls: what to expect during puberty.
    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/puberty/Pages/Physical-Development-Girls-What-to-Expect.aspx
  2. Breast development.
    https://www.texaschildrens.org/health/breast-development
  3. Physical development ages 11 to 14 years.
    https://www.mottchildren.org/health-library/te7260
  4. Puberty: Adolescent male.
    https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/puberty-adolescent-male
  5. Is my body normal? (Boys).
    https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Is-my-body-normal-Boys
  6. Physical changes in puberty.
    https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/development/puberty-sexual-development/physical-changes-in-puberty#other-physical-changes-in-puberty-inside-and-out-nav-title
  7. The Growing Child: Teenager (13 to 18 Years).
    https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=the-growing-child-teenager-13-to-18-years-90-P02175
  8. Physical Development in Boys: What to Expect.
    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/puberty/Pages/Physical-Development-Boys-What-to-Expect.aspx
  9. Physical Changes During Puberty.
    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/puberty/Pages/Physical-Development-of-School-Age-Children.aspx
  10. Mary Scott Ramnitz and Maya B Lodish; (2013); Racial disparities in pubertal development.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23934693/
  11. Social and emotional changes in pre-teens and teenagers.
    https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/development/social-emotional-development/social-emotional-changes-9-15-years
  12. Puberty.
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22192-puberty
  13. Corinna Laube et al.; (2020); Pubertal testosterone correlates with adolescent impatience and dorsal striatal activity.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7242510/
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