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What Happens During Teenage Puberty

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Teenage puberty is one of the most significant rites of passage in a person’s life. It marks the transition from childhood to young adulthood. And it’s a time of change, upheaval, and discovery.

Puberty for teens drives both mental and physical development in adolescence. Therefore, along with changes in their bodies, teens experience lots of emotional ups and downs while going through puberty. Emotional and physical changes during puberty are driven by teen hormones—fluctuations in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, among others.

Experiencing more intense mood swings at this stage of adolescence is natural, although it’s not always easy for teenagers or their parents. Understanding the puberty stages can help. In addition, knowing how to recognize the difference between teen puberty signs and depression is key.

How Teen Puberty Impacts Mood

Parents should expect some amount of unpredictable and moody behavior during teen puberty. Emotional maturity doesn’t usually proceed at the same rate as physical maturation. Hence, teens don’t necessarily have the emotional regulation skills to easily navigate all the changes happening inside them. Furthermore, the adolescent brain is still developing throughout the teenage years, in particular the area of the brain that’s responsible for judgment and decision-making. This area, the prefrontal cortex, doesn’t fully mature until the mid-20s. Hence, teenagers are more susceptible to shifting impulses and emotions while they are going through puberty.

In addition, the physical development that comes with teenage puberty can trigger body-image and self-esteem issues that impact mood. Teens might be self-conscious during puberty as a result of body odor, acne, and/or discomfort with the new changes in their appearance. In addition, they can be more aggressive. Being more withdrawn or seeming depressed is one of the emotional changes during puberty for females and males.

The combination of puberty and adolescence, with all its many changes and new experiences, can be challenging for both teens and parents. It’s all part of growing up—and it gets easier as teens age. Research published in the journal Child Development found that teen mood swings are most intense in early adolescence and become more stable as they get older

How to Distinguish Between Mood Swings and Mood Disorders

How can parents tell the difference between typical moodiness and mental health conditions that require professional attention? Here are five signs that indicate an issue that goes beyond the normal scope of teen puberty.

Avoiding social situations or activities

Friends and social get-togethers are usually very important for teens. Withdrawing from a friend group, skipping out on events they used to enjoy, and spending a lot of time alone in their room could be signs of depression or social anxiety. Furthermore, when a teen’s mood impacts their functioning at school, this may this may indicate that there is a deeper problem than the teen just going through puberty.

Sleep and eating issues

Feeling tired and wanting to sleep all the time can indicate depression. On the other hand, insomnia can be a sign of a teen anxiety disorder. But some sleep disturbances at this age are normal. And teens do need more sleep than their younger and older peers. But ongoing issues with sleep can indicate a deeper issue. In addition, overeating, not eating enough, or loss of appetite can be warning signs of depression, anxiety, or a potential eating disorder.

Difficulty concentrating

When teenagers who used to be focused and goal oriented have trouble getting their homework done or making decisions, a mental health issue might be to blame. Hence, substantial drops in a teen’s grades or an ongoing sense of apathy about getting things done can be red flags.

Expressing sadness, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts

Many teens talk sometimes about “hating” everything and everyone. But when they make repeated statements such as “Nothing matters,” “I just don’t care anymore,” “I hate myself,” or “I wish I was dead,” parents need to pay attention. In addition, if a depressed mood lasts for more than two weeks without a break, a mental health assessment is warranted. Mean girl behavior can be attributed to social conditioning that teaches girls to “be nice” and not to show difficult emotions like anger.Moreover, intense anger, irritability, and aggression may indicate a deeper problem.

Substance abuse

Teens may use drugs or alcohol as unhealthy ways to cope with stress, sadness, or low self-esteem. Therefore, substance abuse can be a sign of depression and anxiety. Moreover, it can also make depression and other mental health issues worse.

When Does Puberty Start?

The answer is a little different for everyone. Girls usually start showing signs of maturity sooner than boys. Girls typically start puberty around age 11. Therefore, girls become physically mature between 14 and 16. Puberty in boys starts between 10 and 14 years old. And boys are physically mature around age 15 or 16. But some amount of variation is normal.

In some children, puberty begins significantly earlier than average. Early puberty, also called precocious or premature puberty, occurs before age 6 in girls and before age 9 in boys. Furthermore, when there are no signs of puberty by age 14, this is known as delayed puberty.

Sometimes there is a medical reason for early or delayed puberty. Therefore, it’s a good idea to visit a family doctor or pediatrician if signs of teen puberty start early or haven’t begun by age 14. Moreover, when puberty changes don’t follow the usual pattern of development, that’s also a reason for a doctor visit.

The Hormones That Drive Teenage Puberty

Specific puberty hormones control the stages of teenage puberty. At the beginning of puberty, the brain releases a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Next, GnRH triggers the pituitary gland. This gland controls the production of several important hormones. As a result, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are released into the bloodstream.

Subsequently, these teen hormones have different effects on males and females. In girls, FSH and LH instruct the ovaries to begin producing estrogen, one of the primary female sex hormones, and eggs.

In boys, the same teen hormones tell the testes to begin producing testosterone, the male sex hormone, and sperm. At the same time, teens will notice other significant changes.

Read “Teenage Hormones and Sexuality.”

What Happens to a Teenager During Puberty

Teenage puberty is a process that goes on for several years. And various physical changes occur in each of the puberty stages. These teenage changes are different for those assigned female at birth vs. those assigned male at birth.

Stages of Teen Puberty in Girls

In girls, breasts develop first. Next, pubic hair eventually grows in the pubic area and the armpits. Subsequently, about a year after puberty begins, girls have a growth spurt. By their mid- to late teens, they usually reach their adult height. In addition, girls develop wider hips and fuller breasts.

In the next stage of teen girl development, girls begin to have a white or yellow vaginal discharge. This is a normal sign that menstruation (the period) will begin soon. Menstruation is the final stage of puberty. Thus, it begins about two years after a girl starts puberty. Once a girl menstruates, she is physically mature and develops the ability to get pregnant.

Stages of Teen Puberty in Boys

One of the first signs of puberty in boys is when the testicles and penis get larger. Furthermore, boys develop the ability to ejaculate (release sperm). As a result, they may have “wet dreams”—involuntary ejaculations of semen while they sleep.

Meanwhile, pubic hair grows in the pubic area and the armpits. The next stage of what happens during a boy’s puberty is typically their peak growth spurt. Mid- to late adolescence is the typical time for growth spurts in males. Depending on when growth spurts and puberty happen, boys may not reach their adult height until the late teens or even early 20s. Also during this time, their muscles develop and their shoulders become fuller and broader.

In the final puberty stages, boys’ voices may start cracking and subsequently become deeper. The larynx, or Adam’s apple, gets bigger. Finally, facial hair grows.

More Physical Changes in Teen Puberty

In addition, some of the physical signs that a child is going through teenage puberty occur in both girls and boys. These include the following.

  • Both boys and girls will grow taller and put on weight and muscle mass
  • Boys and girls will both develop body hair on the legs, under the arms, and over the sex organs
  • Teens of both genders will produce stronger body odors
  • They may also develop acne or other skin problems triggered by high hormone levels; during puberty, the oil glands are more active.

Moreover, both girls and boys experience mood changes during teen puberty.

Adolescent Stressors During the Puberty Years

Moreover, other teenage changes can enhance the intensity of puberty. Teens may experience various external stressors of adolescence at the same time as they are going through adolescent physical development and puberty mood swings. These include:

  • Academic demands
  • Parents’ high expectations
  • Stress around their own ambitions for themselves as young adults
  • Early forays into romantic relationships and sexuality—teenagers become much more interested in sex as changes in puberty kicks into gear
  • Competition and comparisons as a result of teen social media use.

Therefore, teens’ levels of happiness, sadness, and anger became less changeable as they got older. However, their feelings of anxiety continued to vary. The study found that anxiety was high toward the start of adolescence. Subsequently, it decreased and then increased again toward the end of the teen years. Most likely, this is a result of the stressors related to adolescents’ transition into young adults.

Advice for Parents on Navigating Teen Puberty

Stay calm: Remember, puberty for teens is a tumultuous time. And teenagers aren’t always in full control of what they say and do. Therefore, parents should stay calm and be as patient as possible at all times.

Communicate: Parents need to focus on and communicate with their child during teen puberty, and all times. The more parents understand about what teens are feeling, what’s happening in their life, and what they need in order to thrive.

Encourage healthy outlets. While going through puberty stages, kids benefit from activities that help them blow off steam and feel good about themselves. These include exercise, yoga, hiking in nature, and creative pursuits.

Get support. Parent support groups offer resources and a chance to connect with other adults going through the same thing. Look for such groups in your community.

Seek help if you’re concerned. Parents who have concerns about their teen’s mental health should set up an appointment with a counselor or family doctor. Hence, they can serve as an entry point for professional mental health treatment. As a result, early diagnosis and treatment will lead to quicker recovery and better overall outcomes. Contact Newport Academy’s teen mental health experts to find out more about our approach to teen treatment.

In summary, puberty for teens is a rollercoaster for parents and their kids. But with unconditional love and positive tools for coping, teens will thrive.

Key Takeaways

  • Puberty for teens drives both mental and physical development in adolescence. Therefore, along with changes in their bodies, teens experience lots of emotional ups and downs while going through puberty.
  • Girls typically start puberty around age 11 and become physically mature between 14 and 16. Puberty in boys starts between 10 and 14 years old and boys are physically mature around age 15 or 16.
  • Teenage puberty affects teens’ moods and impulses, as well as their bodies. As teen puberty progresses, parents may notice that their child is more emotional and experiences more frequent mood swings.
  • There are various symptoms of depression that parents should be aware of, in order to distinguish the emotional changes connected with puberty from signs of a mental health issue.
  • During the tumultuous years of teen puberty, parents should maintain ongoing connection with their children and be sure to visit a mental health professional if they are concerned about emotional changes in their teen.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teenage Puberty

What happens to a teenager during puberty?

Puberty is a time of intense physical and emotional changes. The physical signs of puberty are different for those assigned male at birth vs. those assigned female at birth.

How long does teenage puberty last?

Puberty typically last between two and five years.

Does puberty make your teen tired?

Puberty hormones affect a teen’s circadian rhythms—the internal clock that influences sleep cycles. Hence, a teen may need more sleep than they are getting and be more tired during the day or sleep later on weekends.

What are the 5 stages of puberty?

Child development expert James M. Tanner identified five stages of puberty, with different changes at each stage. These include:

  • Stage 1 (starting after age 8)
  • Stage 2 (ages 9–11)
  • Stage 3 (after age 12)
  • Stage 4 (around age 13)
  • Stage 5 (around age 15)


Harvard Health Publishing

Child Dev. 2015 Nov-Dec;86(6):1908-21.