Straight, No Chaser: Early and Delayed Puberty


The onset of puberty is an anxious enough time without it being complicated by being early or late. You may be familiar with the changes related to puberty, but you also should know what can cause these changes to be premature or delayed. First we should review some normal benchmarks.

Puberty usually happens between ages 10-14 for girls and ages 12-16 for boys. In girls, breast development is usually the first sign of puberty, followed by growth of pubic and armpit hair, with the onset of menstruation occurring last. In males, enlargement of the penis and testicles is usually the first sign, followed by hair growth, then voice deepening and the development of muscles and facial hair. Both sexes may experience acne and see a two-three year growth spurt during puberty.

precocious puberty

Regarding the onset of puberty, there’s a normal range, and some variations may run in families. Here are some signs that you may need to get early onset of puberty evaluated.

  • Onset of breasts and pubic hair in a girl before age seven-eight
  • Increase in testicle or penis size in a boy before age nine

 delayed pubs

Delayed puberty can also be an issue. Use this range to determine if you should take your child to get evaluated.

  • In girls: no development of breast tissue by age 14 or no menstrual periods for five years after the first appearance of breast tissue
  • In boys: no testicle development by age 14 or development of the males organs isn’t complete within five years of the beginning of their development

“What does all of this mean?” In more instances early or delayed puberty is just that – a variation of normal, with no cause identified. However, there are two groups of potential issues where premature and delayed puberty may not be a normal variant:

  • Nutrition can play a role. Eating certain foods can facilitate early puberty. Alternatively, malnutrition can cause delayed puberty. Abnormalities in hormone levels, bone structure, growth or disturbances within the brain could all have a role. Follow the guidelines above to make sure early or late onset of puberty isn’t a sign of a more serious medical matter.
  • Social consequences can be devastating. Pre-teen and teen years  are when self-esteem and personality are being developed. The ability of loved ones to provide love regardless of physical appearance is important. If early or late puberty is something that runs in your family, share that information with the child. If a medical evaluation or psychological counseling would provide comfort, please don’t delay.

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