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A major part of adolescent development that causes dramatic physical change is puberty. It is essentially a process in the brain that results in physical changes that we all imagine when we think of puberty, like armpit hair and growth spurts. To understand the initial process of puberty, you should know that it activates the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) which then leads to everything that occurs with it. The hypothalamus monitors eating, drinking, and sex while the pituitary gland mainly oversees growth. Then comes the gonads which are the testes in males. From the gonads comes testosterone which is the male growth hormone. With the secretion of testosterone comes the development of genitals, height increases, voice change, and the beginning of the desire for sexual activity.
The initial onset of puberty occurs with adrenarche, which typically happens at around age 10 for boys (sometimes earlier). The rest of puberty is known as gonadarche, and this is what most people typically imagine when they think of puberty. It involves the development and maturation of the testes and the onset of things like pubic hair, breast, and genital development. In the middle of gonadarche, another process called spermarche occurs. This is the first ejaculation that a boy experiences, and it takes place during masturbation or a wet dream.
As mentioned before, all the physical changes occur during gonadarche. Steinberg describes the order of pubertal characteristics as follows: increased penis and testicle size, appearance of straight pubic hair, minor voice change, first ejaculation (spermarche), appearance of kinky pubic hair, onset of maximum growth, growth of hair in armpits, more detectable voice change, and growth of facial hair. The peak age for pubertal changes is about 13 and a half years old. During this time is when boys will put on the most weight, which is on average about 20 pounds in their peak year. The average age for growth spurts, which are typically about 4 inches, is 11 years old. While these ages are the average, it is important to know that premature puberty can happen as well. This is known as precocious puberty. It occurs abnormally early and very quickly. Precocious puberty in males occurs prior to age 9. Something that is not a physical change, but certainly something to be prepared for as a parent, is the insecurity and negative body image that your son can begin to feel during puberty. Some boys take pride in their changing body despite confusion, while others do not always feel so great about it. These feelings are a natural part of puberty, and just something that parents should have in the back of their minds when these changes begin to occur.
The most important thing to know about puberty is that for the most part, it is all normal. You and your son are both going to be confused sometimes, but it is important to reassure him that it is simply a part of life. When you are educated on the matter, you can then better educate him as well. So, enjoy adolescence and enjoy your teen – this time is going to make him into the man he is meant to be.
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