Puberty is the time when children transition—both physically and emotionally—into adulthood. For boys, this transition begins around age 9-14 and lasts throughout their teenage years. Puberty can be a challenging and confusing time for boys that causes many emotional and physical changes, but it can also be a time for growth and maturity.
Puberty occurs when the hypothalamus, an area of the brain, begins to produce the hormone gonadotropin, which creates an increase in the male sex hormone testosterone. This signals to the rest of the body that it’s time to develop adult characteristics.
As the hormones in the body change, boys will experience a wide range of emotions that can shift quickly. Feelings of sadness, depression, and irritability are common in teenage boys as they transition to adulthood. Although these emotions are due to puberty, adolescents can often take out their feelings on family members or peers. If you notice these feelings start to impact daily life or lead to dangerous behaviors, your Atrius Health provider can work with your family to find healthy ways to manage these changes.
As boys’ minds grow into adult minds, they may also experience feelings of desire and sexuality. These feelings can also be accompanied by fear, confusion, and shame. For this reason, it’s important to listen to your child and remain supportive, while setting and maintaining boundaries that work for your family. Interpersonal relationships at this time may also change or mature as boys discover new interests, hobbies, and perspectives. Taking the time to learn about your child’s new interests will help support their growth and avoid feelings of embarrassment.
Several physical changes accompany the mental and emotional changes seen in boys during puberty. Although everyone’s timeline is different, most boys experience growth of the genitals. This is accompanied by an increase in hair growth, especially in the pubic area, on the face, in the armpits, and on the legs. Involuntary erections are also common throughout puberty.
Another noticeable change during puberty is body shape and size. After the onset of puberty, many boys experience a growth spurt. These growth spurts not only increase height, but they also alter body proportions and increase muscle mass. Boys continue to develop muscle after their growth in height has slowed down, sometimes well into their teenage years.
Acne and changes in body odor are also common in boys. These changes are a good time to remind your child of proper hygiene habits like showering, wearing deodorant and ensuring that clothes are clean. Many boys also experience swelling of the breast area at the start of puberty, but this is not dangerous and typically goes down within a few months. Also, as a boy’s vocal cords grow, boys will often experience “voice cracks” as they transition to a lower tone. All of these changes, although they can be embarrassing for boys, are completely normal.
Puberty can be a confusing and isolating time for boys, especially if they are transitioning slower or faster than their peers. It is important to have open and honest conversations with your child about puberty so that they know there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to changing bodies. It’s important to note that these conversations should not be delayed until your child has serious questions. This will only further stigmatize the topic and create barriers between you and your child. It is important to be proactive about these conversations and to be honest with your child. This helps establish a bond that allows them to come to you when they have more questions. It is also important to discuss these things early with your child as they can get false or warped information from other sources that make these conversations difficult in the future. This helps establish a foundation that you can build on together over time as they experience these changes and naturally develop more questions.
If you have questions about puberty, or about how to talk to your child, contact your Atrius Health provider for help navigating these important changes. Be sure to read my colleague’s article, How to Talk About Puberty With Girls.