Early or late puberty
The start of puberty varies from one child to the next – even for children in the same family.
Puberty is said to be early if it starts before:
- eight years in girls
- nine years in boys.
Puberty is said to be late if there are no signs of puberty by:
- 13 years in girls, or if girls show other signs of puberty but haven’t had their first period by 16 years
- 14 years in boys.
Children’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, like your child’s GP.
Causes of early puberty include obesity and family genetics. Rarely, early puberty is caused by hormonal imbalances. But for the majority of children, especially girls, no cause is found.
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
- be more likely to be exposed to sexual interest from others who think they’re older.
Early puberty is much more common in girls than in boys. Girls who mature early can have a lower self-image and higher rates of depression, anxiety and disordered eating. Boys who mature early can have a higher self-image and be more popular with their peers.
If you notice signs of early puberty, start with a visit to your GP, who can try to identify the cause and let you know whether your child needs treatment.
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.
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.
Late puberty can also be caused by lifestyle and social issues like 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.
Teenagers who experience late puberty usually catch up to their peers – they just start developing later. But in the meantime, they might be self-conscious or embarrassed about not being as developed as their peers. For example, boys who start puberty late can have lower self-esteem than other boys their age.
You can talk to your child about their body and feelings, and reassure them that they’ll catch up to their peers eventually.
You might hear late puberty called ‘constitutional delay’ by health professionals.
If you think your child is starting puberty early or late, first find out how your child feels about it. Then follow up on any concerns by seeking advice from a GP or a health professional.