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    Physical Changes in Boys and Girls
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    Physical Changes in Preteens
    15 January 2015

    Physical Changes in Boys and Girls

    9 mins read
    Physical Development
    for Pre-teen
    6723 engaged
    Watching kids grow into healthy adults is a matter of great joy to every parent. Many physical and mental changes take place during the preteen and teen years, for which you might not be as prepared as you think! It can be confusing, understanding which changes are normal and which are not, so here’s a guide on physical changes to help you – for both boys and girls.


    As kids move from early school to middle school, you will start noticing some unmistakable signs of early puberty and then it hits you – your cuddly little darling is now a preteen! This can be as much a surprise for you as it is for your child, although he might not be aware. Specifically speaking, the term puberty is used to refer to the physical changes and adolescence refers to the emotional and psychological changes in preteens and teens, although both terms are used interchangeably.

    When does Puberty begin?

    Puberty starts in girls earlier than in boys, with a median age of 10-11 in girls and 11-12 in boys. Of course, it can also begin as early as 8 or 9 and as late as 13. The general age of onset of puberty has come down through generations. This may be due to improved nutrition, resulting in increased weight and fat accumulation. The age of onset of puberty may also vary upon your race.

    Physical Changes in Boys

    • Genital size:

      The first sign of puberty in boys is the enlargement of their testes. About a year after this, the penis begins to increase in length and breadth. The foreskin becomes wider and is now retractable. The maximal size is attained after 6 years from the onset of puberty. The scrotum grows larger and begins to ‘drop’ below the body, a way of maintaining a lower temperature. By about the age of 13-14, the testes contain sperm with partial or full fertility.
    • Erections:

      An involuntary erection can be seen in young boys and even infants, but as a child reaches preteen age, it becomes more frequent and increases towards their teen years. They usually happen on waking up in the morning, but may occur any time during the day. Wet dreams can also result in ejaculations, though they are mainly seen in the teenage years.
    • Body hair:

      Pubic hair is the physical change that is seen soon after the genitals start growing. The hair doesn’t come all at once, but starts slowly from the base of the abdomen and grows downwards to cover the genital area within about 6 months to a year. A little after the arrival of pubic hair, underarm hair, upper lip hair also appears. Pubic hair growth advances in both directions – towards the legs and towards the abdomen and chest, although this happens much later.
    • Face :

      Facial hair is rarely seen in preteens; it is usually a late teenage development. Yet, some boys notice a faint presence of a few hairs on their upper lip and later on the sides and bottom of their face. Changing hormones also result in a change in overall body chemistry, a visible effect of which is acne due to excess oil secretion. The extent of this can vary from negligible to full blown acne, and having a parent who suffered the same increases a child’s risk by 4 times.
    • Voice:

      During puberty, the voice box grows, and this can cause the voice to lower, resulting in a deeper voice. Their fundamental frequency also decreases as the voice folds get thicker and deeper. The transition is gradual and starts during the preteen stage. This phase can be awkward with the voice in between a childish pitch and an adult tone, causing a kind of squeakiness. This ‘voice breaking’ usually ends by the age of 15. This change in voice coincides with a larger and more visible Adam’s apple.
    • Overall body:

      Boys start growing in height, although a proper burst in growth happens after the preteen stage. Boys’ body shapes begin to change, with shoulders and chest widening. In some boys, breast development is also seen, which is normal and settles down soon.
    • Body odour:

      Due to increase in the secretion of chemicals in the body, during this age, they may get smellier. Use of deodrants and daily shower can help reduce the odour.
    Physical Changes in Girls
    • Genitals:

      Since most of the female reproductive organs are inside the body, unlike in males, there is not much visible change, although they are growing in size with the uterus becoming twice the size of the cervix in preteens. Ovaries and follicles also increase in size. Increased estrogen can result in vaginal discharge and a change in the vaginal mucous layer. The vulva also gets thicker and larger.
    • Breasts:

      This is the first physical sign of puberty in preteen girls, visible in the form of a lump under the areola. The beginning of breast development is also called thelarche. The breast continues to grow, usually expanding in size around the areola and to the sides. The nipple and areola also become darker and more prominent.
    • Menstruation:

      Menstruation is probably the most prominent physical development in preteen girls, and can occur any time between the age of 10 and 16 years. The first period is called menarche and occurs about two years after thelarche. The first period may not involve much bleeding, and is usually scant, although it may cause menstrual cramps. In the initial year, ovulation may not accompany the menses. The onset of ovulation is not yet certain.
    • Body hair:

      Soon after the appearance of breasts, pubic hair begins to appear, first along the labia and is called pubarche. In another 6 – 12 months, the hair growth intensifies, and with time, spreads to the entire pubic area and may go down the inner thighs. Two years into pubarche, underarm hair starts growing and other body hair may become coarser.
    • Face:

      Acne affects girls as much as boys, with the severity depending upon several factors like genetics, skin type and environmental factors. The reason is the same – excess oil secretion. It starts in the preteen stage and usually settles by the late teens. Lips also grow in size, becoming fuller and redder in color due to estradiol.
    • Overall body:

      Preteen girls often grow taller than their male counterparts. The hands, feet and head grow first, followed by the arms and legs and finally the torso. The weight also increases, and the body distribution of fat changes. 10- year-old girls are found to have 6% more body fat than boys of the same age. The shape of the body also acquires a more feminine definition – the hips widen and more fat accumulates on the thighs and buttocks.
    • Body odour:

      Similar to the boys, rising levels of various hormones may result in change in fatty acid composition of perspiration, which may result in foul body odour.

    Tips for Parents to Help Preteens deal with Physical Changes

    • Preparation.

      Parents need to talk about these changes to their children well ahead of time, so that they are prepared. A sudden erection or period might distress a young boy or girl who doesn’t know what’s happening to him or her. Every parent needs to get comfortable talking about sexuality and body changes.
    • Hygiene.

      When the body is going through so many changes, a change in hygiene is warranted. Boys should learn to retract their foreskin and clean the area along with cleaning up in case of an ejaculation. Girls should be shown in detail how to manage periods hygienically. Changing hormones also result in changed body odour, so help them control this with regular baths and personal care products. Tell them to dry themselves well to keep fungal infections at bay.
    • Privacy.

      This is the time when private phone conversations and a sense of body awareness develop – both of which require their own private space. Make sure your preteens have a private place to store their things and practice personal hygiene.
    • Diet.

      Puberty is also a time for peer pressure and a bad body image can lead to eating disorders. Good nutrition is essential during this period of time. Restrict junk food and keep healthy snacks at home. Ensure they have a balanced diet with fat, vitamins, protein and calcium for bones. If your girl is menstruating, ensure her iron levels are normal.
    • Activity.

      With obesity in children on the rise, it is important to ensure your preteen has plenty of exercise every day. This helps to build strong bones, increase strength, increase heart health and overall well-being. More importantly, it sets the stage for a lifelong commitment to fitness. Even menstruating girls can carry on with their regular sport activities.
    • Sleep.

      Preteens need at least 9 hours of sleep a night, sometimes more. Night time sleep is important for growth and to keep preteens alert, healthy and in a good mood. Good sleep improves academic performance and general cognitive ability. If your preteen still seems sleepy in the morning, help her go to bed a little earlier to catch up.
    • Clothes.

      While your daughter previously relied on your clothing choices, things change when she’s a preteen. Boys and girls might want to fit in, and adopt dressing styles of their friends. Give in most of the time, but ensure their comfort. Girls might want darker colored bottoms during their periods along with better fitting tops. Get her training bras of the right size. Boys can opt for closer fitting undergarments and longer t-shirts to minimize embarrassment caused by involuntary erections.
    Every preteen develops at his or her own rate, which is why a wide age range is assumed for every developmental stage. A group of preteens usually appear to have kids of all shapes and sizes, even though they’re all the same age. In case of any doubt, consult a doctor; in fact it’s better to have a thorough checkup in advance, including a dental appointment. With good care, your preteen will grow into a healthy, confident adult and you’ll have done your job well!

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