The journey from boy to man is rife with rites of passage. While some of them are profound, others, like puberty, begin more subtly, yet can progress quickly. Puberty can be a complicated and often confusing time of physical and emotional changes.
Thankfully there are some typical signs of puberty in boys that can help you prepare for these changes, and help your child adjust as they go through the critical stages of transforming from a boy into a man.
What Age Does Puberty Start For A Boy?
Males and females start puberty at slightly different times. A majority of boys start showing the early signs of puberty between the ages of 9 and 14. Girls tend to show signs of puberty earlier, beginning around the ages of 8 to 12 years old.
Physical Changes In Male Adolescence
Adolescence is resplendent with physical changes as boys develop toward manhood. While not everyone is the same and some changes happen at different times and to different degrees, you can expect the following changes to start between the ages of 9 and 14 years old.
Your son’s testicles grow larger during puberty, and one (typically the left) may hang lower than the other as he matures. This is perfectly normal and happens with most boys. Their scrotum skin will also darken, thin, and begin to have tiny hair follicle bumps. Testicular enlargement is often the first sign of puberty, since the testicles produce the male hormone, testosterone, which drives the rest of the changes of puberty.
As androgenic testosterone levels start to rise, boys start to develop body hair in the pubic and underarm areas during puberty. For some boys, hair on the arms and legs may darken as well as thicken, and they may also start to develop chest and abdominal hair.
Facial hair and body hair tend to develop around the same time. For some boys, facial hair can develop slowly or be spotty. This can be a little embarrassing if your son’s peers have a more complete-looking beard or mustache than he does. Choosing the right time to let him shave for the first time can be a point of debate in some households. It might be best to let him choose his own time. If he asks for a razor, it’s time for shaving lessons.
An increase in hormones and general activity level can cause boys to sweat more and more often. At first, your son might not notice it himself. It’s best to be gentle when broaching the subject. Encourage daily showers, and make sure that there is deodorant available. Where possible, avoid using heavy metal containing antiperspirants.
Adolescence is a time of rapid growth for many young males. Some are early bloomers and add an inch or two very rapidly around age 12 or 13, while other late bloomers gain those extra inches closer to 16 to 18 years old. Most experience multiple small growth spurts throughout their adolescent years.
It’s important to note that some boys experience joint pain during these rapid growth spurts, especially in the knees and elbows. Simple daily stretches and exercise might help, but if joint discomfort persists, you might want to speak with your son’s pediatrician about ways to help ease this period of rapid growth, and to evaluate for more serious problems.
Pimples and acne breakouts are often a natural part of adolescence for both boys and girls. For boys, these breakouts can sometimes seem severe as the natural oils in their skin start to increase with the development of facial hair. Some boys are prone to ingrown whiskers.
Providing your son with quality soaps and teaching him how to wash his face properly will certainly help. Some acne medications and special prescription skin creams might be needed. Call your pediatrician if acne is extreme or upsets your child.
For some males, the transition from a high, almost feminine voice of boyhood to the deep baritone of adulthood can cause cracking and squeaking in their voice. This can be embarrassing. It might help to encourage your son by reminding him that it’s something all adolescent boys go through to some degree.
Muscular Development & Broadening Shoulders
A gradual increase in hormones like anabolic testosterone also starts to promote muscular growth and the frame necessary to support normal increase in muscle strength and size. This generally comes in the form of broadening shoulders and burgeoning chest muscles. For many adolescent boys, this can be a point of personal pride, which can also serve as an opportunity to encourage exercises as well as participation in sports. Athletics are a great way to give your son a structured environment and positive outlet for some of the emotional as well as psychological difficulties of male adolescence.
Erections & Nocturnal Emissions
While they might be a little uncomfortable to talk about, involuntary erections and nocturnal emissions or “wet dreams” are completely normal for adolescent boys. If possible try to have a discrete conversation about it with your son, and let him understand that it is part of normal development. It might also help to let him know that he will be able to control it better as he gets older.
Emotional & Psychological Changes
While the physical changes a male’s body goes through during puberty are visibly noticeable, it’s the emotional and psychological changes that can arguably be more profound. Sometimes guiding them, or helping them learn to guide themselves through these changes, can require a more than subtle hand.
Anxiety Related To Change
Anxiety and sometimes even excitement about the physical change he is experiencing are common, especially if your son’s physical development is seemingly ahead of or behind their peers. This is certainly normal, and on a moderate level is nothing to worry about. A child who is experiencing strong anxiety issues that are affecting his daily quality of life or relationships at school may need the help of his pediatrician.
Closing Off To Parents
Sometimes boys, even those who had a very open relationship with you during their elementary school years, will start to gradually close themselves off. This level of reserved behavior and increased need for privacy is natural. This is a time when a lot of burgeoning young men feel the need to “Find Themselves” and build an identity that is separate from the childhood dependence they once had with you.
While short answers about their day, and spending more time in their room watching TV is natural, there is a point where the shutoff can be significant, and can excessively strain your otherwise healthy relationship. It helps to set aside quality time, like watching a game together, family movie nights, or just going out and spending time with him doing something that he wants to do. This might be watching one of his favorite movies in the theatre, going to a concert featuring his favorite band, or engaging in his favorite TV shows.
Mood changes are a natural part of adolescence for boys and girls. This is a result of how hormones affect the brain. It is perfectly normal and might even get worse as time goes on. A lot of times you simply need to give him his space. You also need to watch for overt signs of depression. Decreasing grades, excessive isolation from friends, and dropping activities they loved in the past may be signs of depression. If these occur, a consultation with your pediatrician would be appropriate.
This is a time when the distance between boys and girls in the elementary school years starts to change in the other direction. Your son might develop a crush at school or suddenly reveal that he has a new girlfriend or boyfriend. This is natural, and he may or may not have questions for you about his sexuality or how to approach his romantic interests.
In a time like this, it’s important not to lecture or assign ad hoc rules without giving him good reasons. If possible, try to share similar stories from your own young romances as lessons you learned rather than rules he has to follow.
It is important to discuss safety issues, such as birth control and sexually transmitted disease prevention as your child gets older and more independent. And don’t forget about getting him vaccinated to prevent HPV infection (a sexually transmitted viral infection that can cause genital warts and cancer), which is much more effective when given in early adolescence.