As a mother of 2 grown daughters and having raised three additional teen girls, I have loads of experience with girls when it comes to puberty. Fast-forward a few years, and now we have nine little boys in our family. The smelly armpits and voracious appetites typical of preteen boys give us a hint of a different experience lurking around the corner: puberty in boys.
Fortunately, prepubescent and teenage boys have long been a daily part of my life, given my many years as a school nurse. Teaching the health curriculum, which included growth and development, has given me a unique insight into legions of growing boys going through body changes and their reactions and questions about male puberty.
First of all, I must say that boys are much sillier and graphic than girls when discussing body changes and puberty. Boys may act goofy and use colorful descriptors for body parts and functions, but they are deeply curious about their bodies and the changes they’re going through. Therefore, don’t put off discussing with your boy the important topic of body changes. He’s listening and eager for all the details you can provide. So, before the 1st signs of puberty in boys hit, a frank discussion about what to expect is a good idea.
What is puberty in boys?
Typically, the first symptoms of puberty in boys will begin between the ages of 9 and 14. This is when a boy’s body will start to grow very fast, and your boy will start his transformation into a young man. Physical and emotional changes occur due to the start of the production of hormones such as testosterone. All of these changes are happening to prepare your boy for reproduction.
PubMed recently conducted a study on the age of onset of puberty in boys and girls. It showed that while girls start to menstruate at an earlier age, no fundamental changes in boys’ onset of puberty have been determined. So, when do boys go through puberty? Read on to find out.
Physical signs of puberty in boys
Thankfully, body changes in boys going through puberty don’t happen overnight – though it may feel like it. The process of full maturation takes a few years.
Typically, a growth spurt is the 1st sign of puberty in boys.
Some other physical changes in puberty for males
- Muscles begin to develop and shoulders start to widen.
- Body hair in the genital area and armpits will become noticeable.
- There is increased perspiration and body odor.
- The testicles will enlarge; it’s normal for 1 testicle to grow faster than the other.
- The voice will begin to crack and deepen.
- Acne on the face and back may appear.
- The penis will grow.
- Erections and nocturnal emissions (wet dreams) begin and are a normal part of growing up. This process indicates that your son is now producing sperm. To the distress of boys, these male bodily functions sometimes happen unsolicited at inopportune times.
- Hair starts growing on the face.
Physical stages of puberty in boys
Your pediatrician will also be monitoring for signs of puberty at each check-up once your child is in grade school. Physicians use the so-called Tanner scale to measure where your boy is on the puberty spectrum at present.
The Tanner stages are as follows:
- Stage 1 (between the ages of 9 and 12) is the pre-maturing stage where the body is getting ready to produce testosterone but no physical changes are noticeable.
- Stage 2 (between 9 and 14) is the most noticeable stage as the testicles enlarge, boys grow tall, and the voice changes. Pubic hair appears and acne may be present.
- Stage 3 (approximately age 11 to 16) is the one where the penis begins to grow in length, with body and pubic hair filling in. Testosterone is in full swing, causing erections and teenage mood swings.
- Stage 4 (from ages 11 to 17) is marked by the penis growing in width, and body growth is well underway. The voice is no longer squeaky and continues to deepen.
- Stage 5 (between ages 14 and 18) is the last stage of puberty in boys, where your teen has fully matured and physically reached adulthood. He should be at about his maximum height although some slow gains may be noted for a few years in some young men. To his relief, your son should have better control over his erections and bodily responses.
Emotional and psychological changes during puberty in boys
Puberty causes more than the noticeable physical changes in boys. Their brains are also changing due to hormones and chemicals that make your once sweet little boy view the world with new eyes. Confusion and low self-esteem may lead to mood swings and a seemingly different child.
Here is what to expect as your boy goes through puberty from a psychological standpoint:
- Low self-esteem and self-consciousness
- Anger that may still turn to tears (after all, he is still your little guy)
- Moodiness and inconsistent behavior
- Sexual awareness
- Demands for independence that may look like defiant behavior
As your boy starts to reach psychological maturity, he will reason more effectively and understand issues as an adult. However, due to his lack of experience and impulsive behavior, he may still make childish decisions and mistakes.
Is there something wrong if my boy starts puberty early or late?
As you can see from the Tanner stages above, the 1st signs of puberty can appear when a boy is as young as 9 or as old as 14. Early or late puberty can be very distressing for boys, especially if their friends aren’t on the same schedule. Be sure to reassure your child that everyone starts puberty at a different time and that he is no different if he starts a little earlier or later than his peers.
However, some children enter puberty outside of the expected timeframe. In such cases, their doctor should examine them for underlying causes of their early or late puberty.
Very early puberty in boys is called precocious puberty. The American Academy of Pediatrics describes precocious puberty for boys as the onset of puberty before 9 years of age. There are numerous causes of early puberty in boys, but it’s mainly due to a boy’s body clock just starting early puberty. Also, non-white children tend to mature physically faster than white children. Although it’s uncommon, more severe conditions can be the root cause and therefore need to be checked and ruled out by your medical provider.
Late puberty in boys
Delayed or late puberty in boys happens when a boy doesn’t enter puberty by age 14. Late puberty in boys is more common than in girls. Most boys with delayed puberty are just late bloomers and will catch up quickly when their bodies finally decide that it’s time to begin maturing. To be on the safe side, make sure that your provider is monitoring your boy during his preteen and teen years, especially if you have questions about late puberty onset. There are rare instances of underlying medical conditions that can cause late maturity, and your doctor will look into them if there are concerns.
If you have questions or want more information about signs of puberty in boys, there are many excellent resources on this crucial life topic. I frequently use KidsHealth and Proctor and Gamble puberty education resources for parents and their children in my practice and schools.