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Puberty And Adolescence

Alternate Names

  • pubescence
  • sexual maturation

Definition

Adolescence is the period of growth that bridges childhood into adulthood. This period includes puberty, or the development of sexual maturity.

What is the information for this topic?

Hormones are released during puberty that aid in physical growth and sexual development.
Changes during puberty for boys include:
  • rapid increase in height and weight
  • increase in size of the penis and testicles
  • development of pubic and facial hair, and hair on other parts of the body
  • first ejaculation of semen from the penis, usually between the ages of 11 and 15
  • increase in muscle mass and strength
  • deepening of the voice
Changes during puberty for girls include:
  • increase in height and weight, with the fastest growth around the age of 12
  • breast development, which usually begins between the ages of 8 and 11
  • development of pubic and underarm hair
  • start of whitish vaginal secretions
  • first menstrual period, and the first release of an egg from the ovary. Menstruation can begin anywhere between the ages of 9 and 17. The average age is around 12. Menstrual periods may be irregular at first.
It is wise to start talking a child about the physical changes he or she can expect, before he or she begins to experience them. Often they will have concerns and questions. Parents and healthcare professionals can help reassure boys and girls that they are growing normally. Everyone has their own timetable for starting puberty and developing. Early, frank talks can help encourage a positive body image.
Parents and healthcare professionals might be surprised when adolescents seek medical attention for what seem to be minor complaints. Sometimes behind the complaint is a hidden concern about sex, pregnancy, or a sexually transmitted disease. Adolescents may become depressed, or have thoughts of suicide. Alcohol abuse or drug abuse are possible.
Adolescents are more prone to unintentional injuries, and may need information about sports safety or exercise. Honest communication and thorough evaluation can help resolve problems and relieve stress. Parents can also provide support to help teenagers understand sexual feelings and behavior and respect themselves.
Adolescents struggle to form an independent identity. Family ties can loosen as they look to friends to set standards for behavior and style. They may begin dating and experimenting with sex. Conflicts between teenagers and parents can lead to stress.
In short, adolescence presents many challenges. Healthcare professionals, counselors, teachers, and the extended family may provide support. An adolescent with a loving support system and stable home life can meet the challenges more readily and can be expected to enter adulthood as a caring, contributing member of the family.

Sources

Current Pediatric Diagnosis and Treatment, 12th Ed., 1995, Hay et al.

Textbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing, 9th Ed., 2000, Smeltzer et al.

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