Growth & Development

Is your child ready for the second growth spurt?

Written by Pragya Lodha
Published: June 13, 2022
The Mumbai Program Director & Clinical Psychologist at The MINDS Foundation. Honorary Associate Editor for the Indian Journal of Mental Health with over 100 National and International publications

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The changes during adolescence are a part of the second growth spurt where your child transitions into being an adult. These are important, natural changes that are both physical and emotional, and often interlinked. 

Biologically, puberty or ‘the second growth spurt’, happens when hormones are released from the ovaries (for girls), or the testes (for boys). Hormones are messengers that instruct the body on what to do, and they cause growth different to the growth experienced by your child in their first decade of life. I

These changes largely consist of the following: 

  • Physical growth and development
  • Changes to specific organ systems
  • Brain development 
  • Emotional changes 

So when do children start to experience changes in adolescence? Every child experiences adolescence at slightly different ages and in slightly different ways, but generally speaking, girls can expect their first changes from puberty to occur around 9-12 years of age. Boys commonly experience puberty later in life, around 11-14 years of age. 

How long does puberty last? The physical changes during puberty can occur in as little time as 18 months, or otherwise can take 6+ years to occur. Each child is different, and while this is not a cause for concern, we recommend regular visits with your child’s pediatrician to make sure they are doing well. 

To understand what your child experiences in more detail, let’s focus on the physical changes during adolescence.

What Changes Take Place Physically? 

It’s important to note that boys and girls experience puberty differently, but generally speaking, these are shared developments that both genders can expect to experience during adolescence. 

  • Brain development: During the teenage years, your child’s brain will begin to develop into an adult brain rapidly. This means that your child will be able to conduct better critical thinking, exhibit improved self-control, and show planning and decision-making skills they did not have previously. They will likely be more interested in forming their own opinions and establishing independence from their parents. This development slows down around age 25. 
  • Hair growth: Your child’s hair will grow in places they did not previously have had hair, including their underarms and pubic area. Their hair may also feel oilier as their glands will be more active. It is important to teach them how to maintain proper hygiene so that they can always feel confident and fresh. 
  • Height and weight: As your child’s body grows, their weight increases. If your child is staying physically active and eating a balanced diet with sufficient protein, their muscles will develop to be bigger and stronger, providing them with increased strength. Your child’s bones will also grow, making them taller. It is crucial to support this growth with a diet rich in calcium and iron. 
  • Changing teeth: Most children get their second molars around 12-14 years of age, and their third molars or ‘wisdom teeth’ between 16-25 years of age. Their teeth may shift as this happens, so it is important to teach your child to practice good dental hygiene, get dental check-ups twice a year and wear a retainer if instructed by their regular dentist. 
  • Skin issues: The new hormones during puberty can cause oil glands to be more active, which can cause skin issues to arise, such as acne. Some acne is very normal during puberty, but some types of acne can be severe and painful. If your child is struggling with their skin, we encourage you to take them to a dermatologist. 

Other Changes Your Child May Experience: 

  • Sleep cycle shifts: Many children sleep later at night and wake up later in the morning as they grow through puberty. Although this often alarms parents, this is a very common experience. Teenagers in general require more rest so that their bodies can recover and produce the necessary hormones for proper growth and development. 
  • Emotional changes: As children grow into adults, social pressure from peers, their rapidly changing bodies, uncertainty about their own identities, and their hormone biochemistries can create a perfect storm, causing mood swings and other emotional changes. Your child may experience time periods where they are excessively sad, or self-conscious, or angry, and be unable to understand why they feel this way. As difficult as this is to experience, it’s important to learn how to identify when your child needs support, and how you can best help them navigate this time. 

How Can I Help My Child Cope? 

Changes in adolescence can be difficult for many children. As we mentioned above, the physical changes during adolescence combined with peer pressure, changing self-image, and hormonal changes can have a deep impact on children. In addition to this, pressure from schoolwork, family conflicts, and other external issues can make it even more challenging for children to navigate this time period. Many children report feeling isolated and stressed, and the experience of feeling self-conscious about their physical development is all too common. 

As parents and caretakers, you have the ability to support your child through these years by doing a few key things. Establishing a good relationship with your child early on is a great way to ensure that they will feel comfortable approaching you with any questions or concerns they have about puberty. Ask them questions about how they are doing, and listen carefully to their answers without judgment. Let them know that you are there to support them, but do not try to solve their problems for them – instead, assist them through the problem-solving process. It is also important to allow them to have space to process their emotions by themselves when they require it. 

It is important to encourage your child to take good care of their physical health, especially as they grow into adults. Your child should be staying physically active, and engaging in sports or exercise that they enjoy several times a week. As always, nutrition is also key, so continue to serve them balanced, healthy foods that are high in protein and calcium, two nutrients that are key for healthy muscle and bone development. Encourage and model a good physical hygiene routine, with regular showers and deodorant use, brushing teeth at least twice a day, taking good care of their skin with sunscreen and face wash, and helping them manage their appearance in any way that they can feel most confident. Taking good care of their physical health will help your child feel more comfortable and confident with the physical changes they experience during adolescence.

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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