Preparing for changes during puberty

Image of a young teen sitting on her bed, smiling to camera. Her Dad sits across from her, and is speaking to her.

As a parent or carer, you yourself will have gone through puberty when you were a teen. However, as that was likely years (or even decades) ago, it may be hard to remember exactly what it was like and what you found most challenging. Learning about what your child is going through will help you to support them to the best of your ability.

This page will cover:

  • What is puberty?

  • When does puberty normally start?

  • What are the physical changes during puberty?

  • What are the social and emotional changes during puberty?

  • How can I support my teen during puberty?

  • How can I encourage positive independence during puberty?

What is puberty?

Puberty is a time of change for a young person, and for you as a parent or carer too. Your young person is growing from a child to an adult. There are physical, emotional and psychological changes in adolescence that might cause you some uncertainty about how you can best support your teen. Puberty and the teenage years can also be an exciting time, as your young person is discovering who they are and might be taking their first independent steps into the ‘real’ world.

ReachOut recognises that the sex someone is assigned at birth can be different from their gender. For the purpose of discussing puberty, we will use 'girls' to refer to people assigned female at birth, and 'boys' to refer to people assigned male at birth. This is important, because the age when puberty begins, and its different stages, can vary based on things like the chromosomes and body a person has been born with. Learn more about gender and teenagers here.

Children and young people may also be intersex, which is when they are born with physical features, such as genitals, chromosomes or genetic features, that don’t fit what doctors expect for either female or male bodies. For intersex people, puberty can be a completely different experience. Learn more about what puberty can be like for intersex children and how to support an intersex teenager.

When does puberty normally start?

Puberty typically begins at around 8–13 years in girls and 9–14 years in boys. If your child starts going through puberty outside of these age ranges, it’s recommended to check in with their paediatrician or GP. There’s often no reason for early or late puberty, but sometimes there may be causes that a doctor can address.

There’s no way of knowing exactly when your child will start going through puberty. Early changes, such as brain development and hormone changes, aren’t visible, so it’s easy to think that puberty hasn’t started even when it’s begun.

What are the physical changes during puberty?

You can make this a less uncertain time for your child by helping them to understand some of the common changes that their bodies and minds might be going through.

Common physical changes during puberty include:

  • maturation of major organs and body systems

  • rapid brain development

  • increase in body hair oily hair or skin, which can lead to acne

  • change in body shape

  • hormonal changes, which can affect moods and sleep patterns

  • growth spurts, with boys typically having their growth spurt later in puberty than girls

  • beginning of menstrual period and growth in breasts, with the first period typically occurring at least two years after the start of breast growth (so don’t worry if it seems like your child’s period is late)

  • genital growth, erections and wet dreams (usually starting early in puberty) and, later, voice changes.

For more information about the different stages of puberty, read Raising Children Network’s factsheet about the physical changes of puberty.

What are the social and emotional changes during puberty?

Many of the social and emotional changes that your teen will go through happen over time. There’s usually a series of shifts, rather than one big change, and changes might happen in one area earlier than in another. Learning about these changes and communicating openly with your teen about them can help you to support each other during this time.

A greater sense of self and need for independence

Your young person might be doing things like getting themselves to and from school on their own, managing their school work or choosing what subjects they want to study. They’ll want more privacy and to have more say about things that affect them, such as their schedule and extra-curricular activities. They might also soon be looking for additional responsibility by finding a part-time job or taking on a leadership or sports coaching position at school.

Learn more about supporting your teen to discover who they are during puberty.

Changes in mood and energy levels

Young people are still learning how to manage their emotions and even how to recognise what’s going on with their emotions. They might find it especially difficult to manage strong emotions such as anger, sadness and frustration. They’re also going through physical and hormonal changes, so all of this happening at once may look like mood swings.

Here are ways to improve your teen’s wellbeing so they’ll feel better and be able to cope with their moods.

Increased sexual or romantic interest

Your teen might be having crushes on their peers or even looking to date someone. Learn more about talking to your teen about romantic relationships and sex and consent here.

For some teens, this may manifest as a strong interest in celebrities such as actors, social media influencers or music stars. While to you, as a parent, this interest might seem intense or over-the-top, for your teen it’s very real. It might be the first time they’ve experienced a romantic interest in anyone, so they’re still learning how to process those emotions.

If your teen is questioning their sexuality, learn how you can support them here.

Exploration of relationships outside of the immediate family

This includes new friendships and learning how to navigate challenges with relationships. These experiences help young people to form an understanding of how to engage in healthy relationships in their adulthood and how to identify unhealthy relationships. Learn more about talking to your teen about bad friendships here.

Self-consciousness and comparison of self to peers

As they’re going through physical changes and growth spurts, young people may feel self-conscious about how they look. They might also be comparing themselves to their peers in terms of physical appearance, relationships and achievements. This can lead to low self-esteem. Learn how to help your teen build positive self-esteem here.

Learn more about supporting your teen with body image during puberty here.

Exploration of self and identity

As young people gain more independence, find new relationships and expand their worlds, they’ll be exploring who they are as individuals and forming their identity. When they’re young, it’s easy to think of our children as just that – someone’s child or someone’s sibling. As they make the journey into adulthood, they’re discovering their own interests and forming their own values and opinions. They might be interested in setting their own goals and exploring new things such as politics and social issues. Learn more about supporting your teen to figure out who they are.

They might also be questioning things like their gender identity. Puberty can be a difficult time for young people who are trans, non-binary or gender diverse. Learn more about gender identity here, or watch this video about how this parent supported their trans teen through puberty.

How can I support my teen during puberty?

One of the best ways you can support your teen through adolescence is by communicating with them effectively about what’s going on. Have ongoing conversations with them to help them understand the changes they’re going through, without judging or embarrassing them. Keeping the communication lines open will show them that if they have concerns about anything, they can come to you for help.

When chatting with your teen, try to:

  • set aside distractions such as devices and find a time and space where your teen is comfortable

  • be genuinely interested in and curious about what your teen is telling you

  • listen to them and avoid giving them unsolicited advice

  • reassure them that what they’re going through is normal and you’re here to support them.

Get some more tips for effective communication with your teen.

If you’re finding it hard to communicate with your teen due to a language barrier, learn how to use your culture and heritage to connect with your teen.

How can I encourage positive independence during puberty?

As a parent or carer, you might be worried about your teen’s safety as they push for more independence. They might want to go out with friends, go to parties or try new hobbies, while you want to know for sure that they’re safe and well.

To minimise arguments about this, try to stay calm and work through the issues together with your teen. Agree on rules and boundaries that can give you both what you want.

You could talk about:

  • What reasonable limits are – for example, what time they need to be home by, and whether they can go out on school nights or just on the weekend.

  • What your expectations are regarding communication – for example, your teen agrees to tell you where they’re going and who they’ll be with, and to let you know if they’re going to be home later than expected.

  • How to make good decisions that respect your family’s values, so that when your teen is away from home, you know they’re taking steps to be safe.

  • What to do if one of these rules is intentionally broken – for example, agree on a consequence in advance, such as your teen won’t be able to go out for the next few weeks.

  • How you or another adult your child trusts will always be there for them, no matter what. For example, if your underage teen goes to a party and drinks, they may find themselves in a position where they feel unsafe. It’s important that they know they can contact you for help and won’t get into trouble.

Learn more about setting boundaries with your teen during puberty.

Puberty and adolescence can be a tricky time for both parents and young people. By educating yourself about what your teen is going through, and communicating openly with them, you can make this time less uncertain for you both. Your teen is maturing into their own person and you get to be there on their journey with them.