Puberty: Your tween's changing body
Do you have a tween-ager storming around your house, making you wonder what on earth is going on with your once sweet and cheerful little one? This tricky time, between the ages of 8 and 14, is a period of enormous physical and emotional change. And it can seem to happen overnight – one minute they want to sit on your lap and have a cuddle, and the next they are towering over you. So what are some of the things to expect during this time.
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SPOTTING THE EARLY SIGNS
Puberty can begin as early as 8 in girls and 9 in boys, and it is definitely better for everyone concerned if they are pre-warned about what this might entail. Not everyone starts that early though, it is just as common for the first signs of puberty to appear at 11 years old.
The early signs to look out for are increased sweating and oilier skin, leading to spots and blackheads. For advice and product reviews to help with problem skin, click here. And there is, of course, the sudden appearance of dark hair growing on legs, under arms and on the pubic area. The development of breasts in girls and the changing shape of the penis and testicles in boys are also significant moments for your tweens to be going through - particularly if they are ahead or behind the crowd.
Around age 11 for girls and age 14 for boys, your tween will go through their adolescent growth spurt. Girls usually start two years before boys and develop both physically and sexually a little earlier as a result. However this is not set in stone: you get early and late developers in both sexes so don’t be alarmed if your 11-year-old boy seems to be growing a moustache!
In fact, this growth spurt can happen so fast you may peer over your coffee one morning and swear they grew an inch or two overnight. During their peak growth period, your tween can grow between 6 and 12 centimetres in a year. Usually, their head, hands and feet grow first, followed by their legs and then their torso and shoulders. As parents, we tend to notice the rapid growth at the torso stage, as this is the most dramatic visible change. Keeping our growing tweens healthy is a challenge we all face: their developing bones and muscles require high amounts of calcium and iron but getting them to stay still for five minutes in order to eat a healthy snack is almost impossible! For some brilliant nutritional tips and recipes click here.
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MUSCLE DEVELOPMENT Watching your child grow and develop physically can be incredibly rewarding. As they grow in height, their skeleton and muscles grow at the same rate. Boys will eventually develop larger, stronger muscles, making them physically more powerful than girls and around this time will be separated for sports activities. Interestingly though, girls develop their muscles earlier than boys and so there is a short period around the age of 12 to 13 when some girls may be taller and stronger than their male peers.
MATURING BODIES At the same time, your tween is also developing a larger heart and lungs, a higher systolic blood pressure, a lower resting heart rate and a greater capacity for carrying oxygen in the blood. Their spacial awareness is maturing too and so you may see a marked improvement in their sporting prowess; or their ability to take on more physical challenges. This can be a great opportunity to book in some family adventures or sign them up for new sports. Yet this can also be a time when girls in particular can become more self-conscious about the changes to their bodies and their interest in sports dips. A 2019 study showed that 3 out of 5 British and Irish girls shunned sports during puberty.
According to Dr Georgie Bruinvels, one of the researchers and a Great Britain cross-country runner, the drop-out figure was linked to the impact of menstruation, body changes such as breast and body hair growth, embarrassment and low confidence, feelings of inadequacy, unflattering sports kit, a lack of enjoyment and that sport was “not cool”. Helping your tween feel confident about their body and talking to them about how they feel about sport, as well as encouraging them to continue with activities they have previously enjoyed is a good start to help reverse that trend.