SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Puberty is a time of great change for a young person and their parents.
- You can help your child by being informed, providing reassurance, role-modelling body acceptance and a healthy lifestyle, and respecting your young person’s need for more privacy.
- Take practical steps to support your young person through their bodily changes.
- Look after your own needs too. Talking to professionals or friends and family may help.
On this page
- What to expect during puberty
- What to expect socially and emotionally
- Teenagers and social media
- How you can support your child during puberty
- How you can support your daughter during puberty
- How you can support your son during puberty
- How to talk about puberty and body image
- How to foster positive independence during puberty
- How to look after yourself at this time
- Where to get help
Puberty brings lots of changes for a young person – and for you as a parent too. Your young person is transitioning from child to adult, and you may feel uncertain about how best to support them through the physical, psychological and emotional changes this brings.
Never fear, there’s plenty you can do to help your child. One of the best ways is to be reassuring and help send the message to the young person that you are a safe person they can talk to if they need to.
Puberty is simply a series of natural changes that every child goes through. Some young people and their families struggle with the changes, while others sail through puberty without concern. Only a small percentage of children experience extreme turmoil during this phase of their development.
Puberty and the teenage years can also be exciting and special. As a parent or carer, you are in the best position to help your young person through puberty as you have expert knowledge and experience of their identity and what may be helpful, even if you don’t feel that way at first.
What to expect during puberty
The changes of puberty are physical, sexual, social and emotional. Puberty starts when changes in your child’s brain cause sex hormones to be released in the:
- ovaries (usually around age 10 or 11, but can range from 8 to 13 years)
- testes (usually around age 11 to 13, but can range from 9 to 14 years).
You can’t predict how long your young person will go through puberty. It may be anywhere from 18 months up to 5 years. Genetic, nutritional and social factors determine when puberty starts and for how long it runs.
During puberty, most children will experience:
- oily skin (acne is possible)
- oily hair, possibly requiring frequent washing
- increased perspiration and body odour (frequent showering and deodorant help)
- a growth spurt (of around 11 cm a year in girls and up to 13 cm a year in boys). Teens continue to grow about one to 2 cm a year after this main growth spurt. Some body parts (such as head and hands) may grow faster than limbs and torso. The body eventually evens out.
Girls will experience:
- breast development and possible tenderness
- a change in their figure, including widening of the hips
- growth of pubic and underarm hair
- the start of menstruation – periods may be irregular at first. Some discomfort, like headaches and stomach cramps, is normal but see your doctor if you have concerns
- a clear or whitish vaginal discharge – this may occur before periods. See your doctor if your daughter experiences itching, pain or strong odour.
Boys will experience:
- growth of the penis and testes (testicles). Sometimes the growth of the testes is uneven (that is, one testis grows faster than the other). This is not something to worry about
- growth of pubic, underarm and facial hair
- the start of testosterone production, which stimulates the testes to produce sperm
- the start of erections and ejaculation
- growth of the larynx or voice box – the voice ‘breaks’ and eventually deepens. Voice variations are normal and will settle in time.
What to expect socially and emotionally
Mood changes and energy level variations are normal parts of puberty, as are swings between feeling independent and wanting parental support.
Your child will want to establish their own identity. This can mean exploration of relationships and the world that exists outside of their immediate family increases. This may include new friendships and experiences, and learning how to navigate the inevitable challenges that can occur when a young person expands their understanding of their social world. They may also start to explore their sexual and gender identity through dating and romantic relationships.
These are all vital learnings for young people, as the experiences create a foundation of understating for an adolescent about how to identify unhealthy relationships and how to engage in healthy ones that will develop throughout their adult life.
Puberty and adolescence is a time for children to become more independent (such as getting themselves to and from school). They may also be looking for more responsibility, such as taking on a leadership position at school, or finding a part-time job.
A young person may also be sensitive about how they look and their new body changes. Privacy and personal space may become very important to them. They may alternate between feeling self-conscious about themselves one day, to feeling ‘bullet proof’ the next.
Mood swings may be expected at the adolescent stage as young people are still learning how to control their emotions while so many physical and hormonal changes are occurring in their body.
A young person may take more risks, push boundaries and question their parents’ rules as they start to learn how to individuate, or separate and form their own identify from their parents.
These social and emotional changes are a standard milestone in a young person’s development, along with growing their decision-making skills and learning to recognise and understand the consequences of their actions.
Teenagers and social media
Social media use is common among teenagers. It has a range of benefits such as:
- connecting with friends
- feeling less isolated
- exposure to new ideas.
It also has risks such as:
- spending too much time online
- image-based abuse (someone else sharing a young person’s sext without consent or knowledge)
- exposure to harmful and inappropriate content or online grooming (normalising inappropriate and potentially sexualised behaviours) from sexual predators.
ReachOut has helpful tips about teenage social media use and the eSafety Commissioner has developed an online safety guide for parents and carers in several languages.
Read more about internet safety for children on the Better Health Channel or visit the Headspace website for social media advice for families. The Youthlaw website has legal information and resources for parents, workers and adults supporting young people.
How you can support your child during puberty
One of the best strategies during your child’s puberty is reassurance and ensuring they know you are a safe adult that they can trust to share difficult conversations, without fear of judgement or embarrassment.
Explaining that puberty is an exciting time that means adulthood is approaching can be a positive way to introduce this time of change.
Try to show compassion for the changes they’re experiencing and reassure them the changes are normal, and that many are only temporary. If you are worried or are unsure about your child’s development, you can contact a range of support services which are listed at the bottom of this page.
Puberty is a time when role-modelling body acceptance is extremely important. Your child will compare their body to those of their friends, and may feel worried about their own development, body shape and size. The best thing you can do is listen non-judgementally, show them you understand and explain and normalise that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Modelling a healthy lifestyle will also help your child.
Be accepting of your child’s need for privacy, and that your child may be exploring their body through masturbation. Always knock before entering their room. Respecting your young person’s need for privacy will directly strengthen your relationship with them.
If your child is early or late to puberty, it can help to normalise their experience by offering lots of reassurance and support. They may feel embarrassed, a common experience for young people. You can let them know everybody develops at their own pace.
You may also find it useful to keep the following tips in mind:
- Praise your teenager for their efforts, achievements and positive behaviour.
- Put yourself in your child’s shoes. If you experience them pushing back on boundaries, try to see their behaviour for what it often is: your child struggling to become an individual.
- Try to stay calm during angry outbursts from your child. Wait for your child to cool down before talking about the problem. They will be learning how to regulate their own emotions from how you react when there is conflict in the home.
- Stay interested and involved in your child’s life, and always let them know you are available if they want to talk.
- Chat to your partner or other parents of teenagers. Sharing concerns and experiences can help normalise the process and make you feel more supported, in turn you can support your young person.
- Try to support your child in their self-expression, even if some of it seems odd to you, such as an extreme haircut or strange or different clothing choices.
- Try to tolerate long periods of time spent on personal care, such as hours in the bathroom, but chat to your child about reasonable family time limits.
- Talk to your child about any permanent changes they want to make to their body, such a tattoos and piercings, and discuss temporary alternatives, such as henna (removable) tattoos.
- If your child has acne, talk to them about how they feel about it. If it is bothering them, ask if they would like to see a doctor. Your doctor may refer your teenager to a skin specialist or dermatologist.
How you can support your daughter during puberty
Helping your daughter with firsts, such as being ready for their first period can be a very important time for the relationship between a parent and their daughter.
Help them prepare by providing them with information and having conversations about periods being nothing to be ashamed of, being an important ritual for young women and a normal part of becoming an adult. Provide them with sanitary items for home and school, and explain how to use them hygienically (for example, having clean hands when using tampons, or not sleeping with one in place).
Discuss how cramping and other mood changes may accompany the time of bleeding each month, and explore ways to relieve pain, such as a hot water bottle. You don’t always have to resort to medication, however you can discuss with your doctor or pharmacist if required.
Talk to your doctor if your daughter hasn’t had her period by 16 or 17 years of age, or if her periods stop after they’ve started.
Explain to your daughter that all these changes are natural and happen to every young person in their own time.
Discussing societal gender conditioning and challenging female stereotypes can also be extremely important. Explore what role models your young person may admire and why, and ensure your daughter understands that girls and women can be strong, work in trades with tools and not have to look pretty or sexualised in order to be accepted.
How you can support your son during puberty
Helping your son through puberty is mostly about reassurance. Reassure your son that testes develop unevenly, and it’s common for one to be lower than the other. If your son’s testes are very small or not both in the scrotum, see your GP.
You may also need to reassure your son that penis size does not affect sexual functioning, and that erect penises are usually very similar in size. Every boy develops in his own time. Ejaculating during sleep (sometimes called a wet dream) and spontaneous erections are both normal.
Having conversations about gender and how this is viewed in our society can be important, as there are stereotypes and conditioning that can impact a young person’s confidence through these pubescent changes. For example, discuss how having a small penis does not mean a young person is less of a person than others who may have a larger one. Or challenge masculine stereotypes by discussing how it is healthy for boys and men to show and express emotion, tears, vulnerability and gentleness.
If your son experiences breast growth or tenderness, he may be concerned. Again, reassurance and normalising the experience is the key. Any tenderness is likely to settle once his chest widens. If your son feels small or too thin for his age, reassure him he will grow in time.
Remember, you know your child best. If anything about their development concerns you, see your GP.
How to talk about puberty and body image
The best time to talk about puberty with your child is before it begins. Take an open and relaxed approach to chatting with your child.
Use the correct terms for body parts so your child learns the right words and is comfortable using them when talking about their body. They need to know their body parts are normal and natural, with words to match.
You may like to open a conversation by asking whether your child has learned about puberty at school and what they’ve been taught. Or asking them what they think about it or what they think it means. They may have some knowledge and ideas already.
Convey facts in the conversation, such as ‘Every young person goes through these changes, but not always at the same time. Have you noticed that?’ And talk about your values too: for instance, you may choose to say that you think a behaviour such as masturbation is a normal way to handle sexual feelings.
Pick a time to talk when there are no distractions, and don’t be worried if your child doesn’t want to share everything with you. They may prefer to talk to your family doctor or a counsellor.
Kids Helpline has useful information for young people about body image and sexual identity.
The Raising Children Network website has information for parents about physical changes in puberty.
How to foster positive independence during puberty
It’s normal for your child to want more independence – but still need your support – during puberty or teen years. They may take risks as they explore their boundaries.
As a parent, you may be worried about your child’s safety, and find yourself arguing with them about their push for independence. Try to stay calm and work through the issues with your child. If your child or you are emotional and upset, it is better for everyone to walk away and calm down before continuing a conversation.
Communicate openly, and make sure your child knows you’re there for them. Stay available, because being accessible is a great way for your young person to use you for support. It also helps you to find out what your child is doing and keep them safe.
Talk to your child about making good decisions, and your family’s values. Ask your child to tell you where they are and what they’re doing, and agree before they go out on reasonable limits, such as a return time. If your young person doesn’t stick to the initial agreement, use that as learning for what they can do differently or better next time.
How to look after yourself at this time
It’s important that you look after yourself during this potentially challenging time in your child’s development. Trust in your skills as a parent – and talk to others or read up on the subject so you feel confident in guiding your child through it.
Puberty is the beginning of your child’s transformation into an adult. Take some time to accept that your child, and your role as parent and your family dynamic, is changing.
You may also need to accept that you won’t have total control over your child’s choices and life direction once they’re a young adult.
It may help to trust that you’ve done your best as a parent and trust in your young person. But if your child makes new friendships that lead to activities that concern you, such as violence, substance use or being vulnerable to sexual exploitation, you may feel particularly stressed. In these times it may be useful to seek the advice of a family counsellor or a service like Relationships Australia (which offers parenting advice as well as relationship education programs).
Stay available and caring. Let your child know you are there for them, no matter how old they are. Take some time for yourself to reduce stress, and look after your own needs if this time is particularly challenging. Once you are supporting your own emotional wellbeing, you will then be able to be there to support your young person.
Some tips for ways to take care of yourself:
- Prepare a weekly family plan, so you know what people are doing and where they need to be. Include some fun family rituals, like Saturday night cards, or maybe a weekly walk or bike ride. Don’t forget to schedule some time for yourself.
- Nurture your relationship with your partner. Remember, they’re facing many of the same challenges that you are. A regular date night in your family schedule can be very helpful to deepen your connection and ability to support each other as parents and as romantic partners.
- Use your support networks, like grandparents, other family members and friends. What child (including your teenager) doesn’t enjoy being spoiled by a doting grandparent? You could also share carpooling or supervision duties with friends.
- Ask the kids to help out with household chores. Your child will learn some new skills, gain some new responsibility, and it will lighten the load for you as parents and carers. Focusing on positive reinforcement for tasks done well rather than punishment for tasks not done has been shown to be a more effective method of parenting where appropriate.
- Stay positive and keep things in perspective. Adolescence does not last forever, and it is a temporary stage in your young person’s life.
For an extra boost, you could try some meditation, yoga or deep breathing exercises.
Where to get help
- Puberty: helping pre-teens and teenagers handle the changes, Raising Children Network.
- Sexual identity, Kids Helpline.