If you’re a teenager—or the parent of a teen—you’re no stranger to the power of hormones. Starting as early as age 7 or 8, the body begins to produce the hormones that are responsible for the changes of puberty. Teenage hormones are the chemicals that cause the physical growth and sexual development that will carry teens through into adulthood.
As these substances take hold of a teen’s body, parents (and kids) will notice that adolescents’ emotions, moods, and sexual feelings are much stronger. They will probably experience mood swings, weight gain, and growth spurts. In addition, teens may also feel more impulsive and more inclined to take risks, like experimenting with drugs or alcohol, driving without a license, or having unsafe sex.
Teen hormones affect not only adolescents’ bodies and minds, but also their behavior. Peer pressure, low self-esteem, and raging hormones can lead teens to take chances and engage in risky behaviors that could have a negative effect on their future. Therefore, as children enter their teenage years, it’s important for them to have a support system they can rely on. Parents, siblings, therapists, teachers, and coaches can provide wisdom and guidance as teens navigate this challenging, exciting time in their lives.
What Are Teenage Hormones?
Teenage hormones drive physical and sexual development. At the beginning of puberty, the brain releases a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH triggers the pituitary gland—a small but significant gland that controls the production of several major hormones—to secrete follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) into the bloodstream.
In people assigned female at birth, the primary sex hormone is estrogen. For those assigned male at birth, testosterone is the primary sex hormone. In addition, both boys and girls produce hormones called androgens, although boys produce a higher level of androgens. Other teenage hormones that initiate change and growth are dihydrotestosterone (DH), estradiol, and growth hormone.
Trans Teens and Teenage Hormones
For transgender teens, puberty is typically the time to begin hormone therapy to support the transition to their identified gender. This has documented positive effects on trans teens’ mental health. According to a 2019 study on the role of hormones in the transgender brain, “the bulk of the data suggests that self-reported level of function and quality of life is improved with GAHT (gender-affirming hormone therapy).” The researchers concluded, “Although being trans is associated with increasing mental health problems due to social circumstances, there is now growing evidence suggesting that gender-affirming social support and GAHT are linked to better mental health outcomes.”
When Do Hormones Start?
Puberty hormones begin to do their work typically around between ages 7 and 13 in people assigned female at birth, and 9 and 15 in those assigned male at birth. However, the onset of puberty happens at a slightly different time for each person. Around this age, some high school students look more mature while others may still have less developed bodies. Each adolescent develops at their own pace.
The natural next question, of course, is when do teenage hormones settle down? It takes a while! Some of the physical development associated with puberty, such as breast development, are complete by around age 18. But the process itself continues into young adulthood. By the time a young person reaches their early 20s, the release of sex hormones has slowed down and the mental and physical changes associated with puberty are complete.
The Five Stages of Puberty
Child development expert James Tanner identified five stages of puberty:
- Stage 1, starting around 7 or 8 in females and 9 or 10 in males: The brain sends signals to the body to begin producing sex hormones; few noticeable physical changes at this point
- Stage 2, starting between 9 and 11 in females and around 11 in males: Physical development begins
- Stage 3, starting after age 12 in females and around age 13 in males: Physical change become more obvious, including growth spurts
- Stage 4, starting around age 13 in females and 14 in males: Puberty is at its most intense point; this is often when males’ voices become permanently deeper and when females get their first period (although this can happen earlier)
- Stage 5, starting around 15 in both males and females: This final stage of puberty marks the culmination of a teenager’s physical development, including their full height.
Teenage Female Hormones: Symptoms
In girls, FSH and LH instruct the ovaries to begin producing estrogen, one of the primary female sex hormones, and eggs. Girls will grow taller and put on weight and muscle mass. They will begin to have a menstrual cycle and will develop fuller breasts and wider hips. Body hair grows on the legs, under the arms and over the sex organs as a result of teenage girl hormones and emotions may begin to be more volatile and intense. Acne may become more prevalent, along with stronger body odor.
Teenage Male Hormones: Symptoms
In boys, puberty hormones tell the testes to begin producing testosterone, the male sex hormone, and sperm. Boys will grow taller and put on weight and muscle mass. They will develop larger sex organs and will be able to ejaculate (release sperm). Boys will develop body hair on the legs, under the arms, and over the sex organs. They may have stronger body odors and may develop acne or other skin problems.
The Effects of Hormones on Mood
Teen hormones affect teenagers’ moods, emotions, and impulses as well as their body. The mood swings that teens experience are caused by fluctuations in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone—the sex hormones. These same teen hormones will also affect the way they think about dating and sex. Teens become much more interested in sex, sometimes to the point of obsession, as teen hormones kick into gear.
It’s hard to feel that your body and mind are being controlled by the forces of nature instead of being directed by your own decisions. Many adolescents feel that the changes they’re experiencing due to teenage hormones are weird, freakish, or unnatural. In fact, almost everything that teens go through during adolescence is a normal part of their development.
The Link Between Raging Hormones and Mental Health
Does puberty cause depression? Teenage hormones can increase the risk of depression—specifically estrogen, which drives puberty in teen girls. However, it’s not just teen hormones that heighten the risk of mental health challenges during the teenage years. Adolescents are also under intense stress as they strive to form their identity and navigate academic challenges and relationships within and outside the family.
In the adolescent years, a teen’s identity may change from one month to the next. They have the opportunity to experiment with their personal values, style, beliefs, and sexuality. If they have healthy self-esteem and a strong support system, they can build their new identity with confidence. But many teenagers struggle with their sense of self-worth, feeling that they don’t measure up to the standards of their parents, teachers, or friends. Teenagers who suffer from low self-esteem are more vulnerable to the negative influences of peer pressure and more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Furthermore, they are more likely to become depressed.
Warning Signs of Low Self-Esteem and Depression
It’s not unusual for teens to go through periods of feeling sad, lonely, or irritable. But if these feelings persist for more than a week or two, your teen might be depressed. The emotional turmoil of adolescence can sometimes hide a serious mental health condition that must be treated promptly.
Parents and educators should be aware of the following signs of low self-esteem and mental health warning signs in teenagers:
- Withdrawal from friends and social activities
- Poor hygiene or a lack of concern for appearance
- Abandoning good friends in favor of a new social crowd
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Changes in weight or eating habits
- Unusual mood swings
- Tearfulness and a sense of hopelessness
- Expressing thoughts of suicide.
Recognizing Hormonal Imbalances in Teens
When the body produces too much or too little of the hormones required for puberty, a hormonal imbalance is the result. Hormonal imbalances can lead to a variety of health issues. The symptoms of hormonal imbalance in teenage girls can include heavy or irregular periods, hair loss, night sweats, and headaches. The symptoms of hormonal imbalance in teenage males may include loss of muscle mass, decrease in body hair and beard growth, hot flashes, and difficulty concentrating.
There is a host of other signs of hormonal imbalance common across genders, including dry skin, blurred vision, fatigue and joint pain. Hormonal imbalances in teenage girls and boys can also affect mood and emotions. Irritability, depression, anxiety, and nervousness can be symptoms of hormonal imbalance. (It’s important to remember, however, that these teen emotions can be catalyzed by normal teenage hormone levels as well.)
If you think your teen may have a hormonal imbalance, a doctor visit is essential. A healthcare provider can determine whether underlying health issues are causing the imbalance and prescribe hormone therapy to ensure normal development during the teenage years.
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Discovering Dating During the Teenage Years
Teen hormones naturally increase teenagers’ interest in peers they’re attracted to. Consequently, some teens look forward to the time when they can start dating. However, others dread this adolescent ritual. Learning how to socialize with peers is an important part of growing up. In addition, peers are especially important to teens as they begin to search for stronger connections and relationships outside of the home.
If your teen is nervous about dating, encourage them to start by simply making friends with boys and girls they like. Furthermore, group dates are a great way for shy teens to get to know others without the pressures of one-on-one dating.
How to Calm My Teenage Hormones: Dating Tips for Teens
With all those teen hormones raging through their bloodstream, it’s inevitable that teens will think about sex. It’s also likely that they’ll experiment with it, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reports that in 2015, 30 percent of teenagers who were surveyed reported that they had had intercourse during the previous three months.
Sex hormones are powerful during adolescence. However, teens don’t have to be controlled by their raging hormones. Here are some ways adolescents can nurture romantic relationships while building authentic connections.
- Seek out people who share your interests. Physical attraction often guides dating decisions in the teenage years, but the prettiest girl or the hottest guy doesn’t necessarily make the best dating partner. Join clubs or participate in sports activities where you can meet people who share your hobbies and interests. You’re much more likely to have an interesting, satisfying date with someone you can relate to on a personal level.
- Focus on the other person. One of the best ways to get over being self-conscious and nervous is to focus on someone else. Ask your date questions. Find out about their likes and dislikes. Your interest will help you start your relationship from a basis of friendship.
- Find non-romantic things to do. Dating doesn’t necessarily have to be about hearts, flowers, and candy. If you’re nervous about being in an intimate situation with someone, invite them to go on a hike with a few other friends or attend a football game at your school.
- Don’t let rejection get you down. Learning how to accept rejection without taking it personally isn’t easy, but if you can develop this skill, it will help you throughout your life. When you ask someone out on a date, you’re taking a risk that he or she will say “no.” If your offer is refused, give yourself a few minutes to feel bad about it, and then move on. Brush yourself off, then invite someone else to go out with you. Sooner or later, you’ll find the right person.
Teens should never rush into intimacy because they’re afraid of being the only virgin in their class; there are probably a lot more abstinent teens in their peer group than they think. Teens who feel comfortable talking openly to a parent or another adult about how hormones affect their physically and emotionally may be less likely to go through an unplanned pregnancy or contract an STD.
The Risk of Sexual Violence for Teens
Teens who are just entering the world of dating and sex need to know that no one should ever force them to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable. That can range from peer pressure to dating violence. According to the CDC, teen dating violence is defined as physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking.
While teen dating violence is not the norm, it does represent a significant risk for teens. In a study of national youth risk behaviors, 10 percent of high school students reported physical victimization and 10 percent reported sexual victimization from a dating partner in the 12 months before they were surveyed.
It’s important for parents to be aware of how their teen’s dating and relationships are affecting their mental health. If your teen exhibits symptoms of anxiety and depression, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts, their relationship might be one source of the problems. While it’s sometimes hard for parents to judge the difference between being “nosy” and being protective, it’s always a good idea to ask gentle questions that can help your teen feel safe to share with you what’s going on.
When Teenage Hormones Lead to Substance Abuse
Along with the pressures to date and have sex, teens often face pressure from their peers to try drugs or alcohol. Neurological studies of the adolescent brain indicate that teens might be more likely to experiment with drugs than adults because of differences in their brain development. In adolescence, the area of the brain that’s responsible for judgment and decision-making is still immature. This area, the prefrontal cortex, doesn’t become fully mature until the mid-20s. Meanwhile, the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls impulses and emotions, is still maturing in adolescence, increasing the urge to take risks.
In your teens, your life as an adult may seem impossibly far away. With so much time ahead of them, teens might feel that the choices they make today are inconsequential. But in fact, starting to use drugs or alcohol could have severe consequences, not only in the immediate future, but for years to come. Teenagers who engage in substance abuse are more likely to develop full-blown addictions as adults. They are also more likely to engage in behaviors that could cause serious consequences or legal problems, such as:
- Driving recklessly
- Swimming in unsafe areas
- Having unsafe sex
- Fighting with peers
- Suicide attempts.
Teen hormones, sex, and drugs can be a dangerous mix. When your emotions and sexual urges are already in a volatile state, adding intoxicating substances could create a much greater risk of making life-altering decisions. Help your teens realize that taking chances with their future just isn’t worth the risk. If they feel pressured by their peers or their own emotions to do things that they know are dangerous, it might help for them to talk with a parent, mental health professional, or addiction specialist about how they can get through this tough time safely.
How to Control Teenage Hormones and Help Your Growing Teen
As teens mature and the effects of teenage hormones continue to create change, it’s vital for parents to stay engaged and present in their child’s life and support them through these challenging years. Here are a few ways parents can do that.
- Encourage your teen to try new things and take on new challenges. Exciting experiences and social engagement help teens focus outside themselves and build confidence, rather than obsessing over all the changes happening in their bodies and minds.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Check in frequently at times when it feels natural, such as riding in the car or at mealtimes. Let your teen know that if they’re not comfortable talking with you about the effects of teen hormones on their body and emotions, they can talk to another trusted adult, like a school counselor or a relative.
- Create stability and rhythm at home to support teen self-care. That includes getting enough sleep and physical activity, eating well, and limiting screen time. These general health guidelines can help prevent teen hormone imbalances.
- Even though your teen is increasingly independent, continue to provide discipline and boundaries where appropriate. While teens may push back against rules and accountability, they actually feel safer and more protected when parents provide clearly defined expectations and consequences for their behavior.
- Help your teen develop positive coping mechanisms for stress, such as journaling, yoga, creative expression, or spending time in nature. Limiting stress hormones in the body supports healthy physical and emotional development during the teenage years.
If a teen appears to be struggling beyond what the natural hormonal changes of adolescence should create, don’t hesitate to turn to mental health professional for help. It can be difficult to tell the difference between the effects of hormones and a mental health or behavioral disorder. An in-depth assessment will provide clarity about what your teen is going through and whether treatment is necessary.
For answers to your questions about teenage depression and anxiety, the effect of hormones on mental health, and adolescent identity building, contact us today for a conversation and assessment, at no charge. We specialize in helping teens build self-esteem, resilience, and strong relationships with parents and peers—so they can mature into healthy, happy young adults.
5 Key Takeaways
- Beginning between ages 10 and 13, teenage hormones kick in, producing physical and emotional changes. The process is not complete until the early 20s.
- Higher levels of the teen hormone estrogen during puberty can increase the risk of depression for adolescent girls. In addition to hormonal changes, the turbulent emotions and experiences of adolescence can lead to mental health issues. Hence, parents should be familiar with and watch for signs of depression, anger, and low self-esteem.
- Teenage hormones naturally lead to heightened romantic and sexual interest in peers. Teens need support and guidance for navigating the complicated territory of teen dating and early sexual relationships.
- Puberty is also a time when teens tend to engage in risky behavior, specifically experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Parents can head off dangerous teen behavior by setting clear expectations and boundaries.
- To help teens through the intense teenage years, parents can support them in building resilience, good self-care habits, and healthy coping mechanisms. A mental health professional can also be part of a teen’s support system.
Frequently Asked Questions About Teenage Hormones
Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019 Jan; 44(1): 22–37.