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Understanding Puberty

By Marc Courtiol

There are various stages of puberty that most of us are painfully familiar with. Even though the majority of us understand what happens to girls and boys as they hit puberty, many of us do not completely understand the science behind the changes that occur during that time.

If you have started noticing some of the telltale signs of puberty in your child, or even if you would just like to prepare yourself for this often unnerving time in both parents and children’s lives, there are some things you can learn about that might help you to ease your child through this awkward time.

Puberty – What is happening?

In a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) begins to gradually be released once a girl reaches the age of 8, and after a boy reaches the age of 9 or 10. This marks the beginning of puberty. It should be noted, however, that the visible signs of puberty may not be evident to parents at these precise ages. The time that each child starts to go through puberty tends to vary between different people, so do not become overly concerned if it does not happen with your child at an age that seems to be “right” to you.

Once GnRH is released, it travels to the pituitary gland, which is where two additional hormones are then released that initiate the onset of puberty: follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

With boys, these hormones travel through the bloodstream to the testes, which signal the initial production of sperm, as well as testosterone, another hormone. With girls, the hormones travel to the ovaries, triggering the production of estrogen and the release of eggs.

At the same time that all of this is occurring, the adrenal glands start producing hormones known as adrenal androgens. These particular hormones have the responsibility for stimulating the development of body hair.

Concerns beyond the physical

Of course, boys and girls experience a variety of changes that are vastly different, but there are huge emotional changes that kids of both sexes go through once puberty strikes. Many parents of pubescent children chronically complain about temperamental, sullen children who are vastly different from the way they were when they were younger. Such is to be expected from most teens and pre-teens, but many parents find themselves at a loss, wondering how to deal with their unruly child.

Experts tend to agree that parents need to take an active role in initiating communication with their children who are going through the awkwardness that is puberty. It is typically recommended that parents try to get beyond any embarrassment they might feel regarding how to discuss sensitive, personal issues with their children, and simply address the various changes that the children are going through. If parents can accept that their children have changed both emotionally and physically, it will likely help them to better deal with the situation, and to have a less frustrating relationship with their children in the long run.

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