How the timing of puberty affects adolescents and young teens

Puberty begins with hormonal shifts that trigger the development of male and female sex characteristics. In general, puberty usually starts for girls between the ages of 9 and 11, and for most boys between the ages of 9½ and 13 years, although the exact age at which puberty starts varies widely among individuals.

Adolescents are usually very aware of how their development compares to that of their friends. Any development that varies significantly from the norm can be a source of great anxiety along with social and emotional struggles.

The tables below highlight some of the advantages and disadvantages related to the timing of puberty.1

When puberty starts early
  Girls who mature early: Boys who mature early:
Advantages of maturing early
  • May be more popular with boys. This can make them more popular with other teens, leading to early dating and a more active social life.
  • May have an easier time coping with the stresses of adulthood. These girls have more social experiences.
  • Often do well in sports because of their physical maturity.
  • May seem more attractive to girls because girls usually mature earlier than boys.
  • Are often seen as leaders by other teens.
Disadvantages of maturing early
  • May be embarrassed about having periods, developing breasts, and growing taller sooner than their peers.
  • May look more like adults and be expected to act like adults.
  • May have problems dating if they are not emotionally ready.
  • May have less time to adjust to puberty due to early development.
  • May feel pressure to grow up too soon and to take on duties that they may not be ready for.
  • May have problems dating if they are not emotionally ready.
  • May not have enough time to enjoy being a teenager.

 

When puberty starts late
  Girls who mature late: Boys who mature late:
Advantages of maturing late
  • May enjoy relatively "safe" teenage years because they have more time to get emotionally ready for puberty.
  • May not be pressured to date too early or have sex.
  • May grow up with strong coping skills and greater curiosity because they developed later.
  • May be more focused on school and getting good grades than on dating.
Disadvantages of maturing late
  • May be anxious, wondering when their bodies will develop.
  • May be made fun of by other teens.
  • May stay "childlike" longer.
  • May find it harder to compete in sports, date, or take on leadership activities because of their delayed physical development.

Citations

  1. Irwin CE, et al. (2003). The adolescent patient. In CD Rudolph, AM Rudolph, eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 21st ed., pp. 223–270. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Last Updated: February 1, 2010

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