What are the signs of puberty?

By: HowStuffWorks.com Contributors

Puberty is the time that children become sexually mature. This happens at different ages and at different rates for boys and girls and goes on for several years. There are typical patterns of development, but each child may exhibit the first signs at different ages within the norm. Puberty affects boys and girls differently, and may also have an emotional and social impact on both.

Girls start puberty before boys, sometimes as early as the age of 8, but the usual age is around 11. Physical changes caused by hormones can go on until around the age of 16 for girls, and 17 for boys. Puberty happens in stages. The first sign in girls is breast development. Pubic and armpit hair starts to grow, and menstruation begins. The first sign of puberty in boys is when the testicles and penis get bigger. The next stage is pubic hair and armpit hair. Boys' muscles start to grow, their voice deepens, and they start to grow facial hair. Some signs of puberty are the same for boys and girls. Acne, the bane of so many teenagers' existence, occurs at around the time that the sweat glands kick in, and children start to sweat more. Body odor may become an issue. The growth spurt associated with puberty lasts several years, as the physical changes happen at a different pace for each child.


Puberty is not just a time of physical changes on the way to sexual maturity; it is also a time of intellectual and emotional development. Children start to question and challenge their parents. They may become moody and try to assert their independence as they voice their opinions and develop their own identity.