Just like most things in life are unique for every person, so is the onset of puberty. It’s not a one-age-fits-all system where every girl would get her period at a certain age. Some get there later, and some early. Early puberty, mostly before 8 years of age, is also called precocious puberty.
Dr Anju Virmani, Senior Consultant Endocrinologist, Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital, explains what is normal puberty.
She describes it as a time of transition from childhood to adulthood, marked by rapid, complex physical, mental and emotional changes. These include gain in height, weight, muscle mass (specially boys), bone strength, sexual maturity, social and cognitive development, rebellion and independent thinking; with implications for academics, career decisions, social and financial status.
The end result is ideally a physically, reproductively, and socially mature young adult. The tempo of puberty is affected by family patterns of growth, general health, nutrition, exercise, and the environment (urban/ rural, altitude, etc).
The growth process lasts for 4-5 years. Girls start (breast buds) at the age of 9-11 years, grow rapidly for 2-2.5 years, then start their periods, grow slowly for 2 years, and then gain no further height.
Boys start (increase in size of testes) at age 10-13 years, grow steadily for 4-5 years, then gain no further height. Parents should pay attention to the general health of their 10-15 year old children. Make sure they get:
* One to two hours daily of exercise
* Around 8 hours of sleep
* Enough low fat dairy (milk, curd, paneer) and dals
* No junk food
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It’s not surprising that this crucial time of puberty is surrounded by myths. Let’s discuss some today.
Fact: “No! If a girl starts puberty at 8 years of age, her periods will start by 10 years of age, and growth stops by age 12-13 years. Or if a boy starts puberty at the age of 9 years, he will be done growing by 13-14 years. The growing time is relatively constant at 4-5 years.”
Fact: “No! Is this due to puberty? Then she is likely to reach final height by age 10-11 years, with a high chance of being short finally. Consulting the doctor when she gets her periods by age 8-9 years is already too late – the growing ends of the bones have nearly fused, with hardly any scope for growth left, so no treatment will work much.” Plus, ensure the child has the right food for height gwoth.
Fact: “Wrong! Please go to your pediatrician twice a year starting from when your child is aged 5 years. Go for these ‘well visits’ – get height, weight, blood pressure, puberty checked. Detect problems early.”
Fact: “No! Obese girls can start puberty early, and may end up short. Not just early puberty, obese children have a high risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, fatty liver, PCOS, knock knees, sleep apnea, and other diseases, even by adolescence.”
Fact: “NO! Precocious puberty has important, even serious, implications for your child. In rare cases, it could be due to a brain tumour. It is more worrying in boys and younger girls. Please consult a pediatric endocrinologist (hormone specialist).”