Every child is different. The onset of puberty varies widely from one child to the next – even for children in the same family.
But your child’s self-esteem and body image can be affected if puberty is early or late. So you can watch for the signs of early or late puberty and follow up by speaking with a health professional.
Our article on puberty
has more on the physical changes you can expect in your child. It also includes information on the average timing of these changes.
Puberty is said to be early if it starts before eight years in girls, or before nine in boys. Early or ‘precocious’ puberty is much more common in girls than in boys. Causes of early puberty include obesity, family genetics and, rarely, hormonal imbalances.
For the majority of children, especially girls, no cause is found. If you notice signs of early puberty, start with a visit to your doctor who can try to identify the cause and advise you if treatment is needed.
Children who start puberty early might:
- be teased
- feel self-conscious
- have a poorer body image
- be more likely to start exploring sexuality earlier
- seem tall for their age early on, but then stop growing before their peers
- be treated by grown-ups and other children as being older than they really are.
Studies have found that girls who mature early have a lower self-image and higher rates of depression, anxiety and disordered eating. Boys who mature early have a higher self-image and are more popular with their peers.
If your child starts puberty early, it’s important that you or another appropriate adult explain what’s happening, and answer any questions your child has. Reinforce that your child has a perfect body – just the way it is. Your child might also be interested in talking to the school counsellor or your GP.
Puberty is considered late if there are no signs of puberty by 13 years in girls, and 14 in boys. If a girl shows other signs of puberty but hasn’t had her first period by 16, this is also considered late.
Late puberty is most commonly caused by family genetics. If you or other family members experienced late puberty, it’s more likely that your child will too. You might hear this referred to as ‘constitutional delay’ by health professionals. These teenagers usually catch up to their peers – they just start developing later.
Teenagers might be self-conscious or embarrassed about not being as developed as their peers. For example, studies have found that boys who start puberty late have lower self-esteem than other boys their age. You can talk to your child about his body and feelings, and reassure him that he will catch up to his peers eventually.
Late puberty can also be caused by lifestyle issues such as poor nutrition, eating disorders or severe stress. Chronic illness, hormonal conditions and some genetic disorders can also cause late puberty, but these are less common. Seek advice from a health professional if you or your child have concerns.
It’s common for parents to worry that their child’s physical development isn’t the same as other children’s. If you think your child is starting puberty early or late, first find out how your child feels about it. Then follow up any concerns by seeking advice from a GP or a health professional.