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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
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.1
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
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:
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.
Irwin CE (2011). Somatic growth and development. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph’s Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 265–266. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Other Works Consulted
Bordini B, Rosenfield RL (2011). Normal pubertal development, Part II: Clinical aspects of puberty. Pediatrics in Review, 32(7): 281–291.
Kaplan DW, Love-Osborne KA (2009). Adolescence. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 101–136. New York: McGraw-Hill.
February 28, 2012
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics & Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
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