Puberty is made up of a clear sequence of stages affecting the skeletal, muscular, reproductive, and nearly all other bodily systems. Physical changes during puberty tend to be more gradual and steady. This is comforting to many parents who feel childhood passes much too quickly.
Changes in Body Composition and Height
Most children have a slimmer appearance during middle childhood than they do during the preschool years. This is due to shifts in the accumulation and location of body fat. As a child's entire body size increases the amount of body fat stays relatively stable, giving them a thinner look. Also, during this stage of life a child's legs are longer in proportion to the body than they were before.
How to Discuss These Changes with Your Child
Your child needs to understand the physical changes that will occur in their body during puberty. There are many opportunities during this time of life for you to talk to your child about what they are experiencing. You should emphasize that these changes are part of the natural process of growing into adulthood, stimulated by hormones (chemicals that are produced within the body).
Teen Growth Pattern
Whatever pattern a teen's growth follows, it is during the pubertal years that your son or daughter grows tall more rapidly than at any other time in their life.
- Girls: On average, rapid growth occurs around age eleven and a half, but it can begin as early as eight or as late as fourteen.
- Boys: Usually, boys trail behind by about two years; this is why thirteen year-old girls can, for a time, be a head taller than thirteen year-old boys.
Just as height can vary from child to child, so can the timing of a child's growth. Despite the averages mentioned above, children have a tendency to grow in spurts. Thus, they may grow faster at times and slower at others.
Although boys and girls are generally of similar height during middle childhood, that changes with the beginning of puberty. Particularly in junior high school, girls are often taller than their male classmates but, within a year or two, boys catch up and usually surpass their female classmates.
When to Speak to the Paediatrician
For a boy or girl to be slightly less developed or more developed than other kids the same age is rarely cause for alarm but if a child seems significantly different from others his or her age, parents should speak with their paediatrician so that their child can be checked for (and most likely rule out) any medical problems. Chances are, it is the paediatrician who will bring these differences to the parents' attention.
The Importance of Regular Exercise
Children also need to exercise regularly to ensure normal physical development. Those who spend their free time watching TV, playing video games, or engaging in other stationary activities, rather than playing outdoors, may have impaired bone growth. When physical activity is increased, bones are denser and stronger however there is no evidence that a very strenuous exercise program will help your child grow faster or bigger.
Changes in Athletic Performance during the Adolescent Growth Spurt
Going through puberty can have a significant impact on athletic performance in both positive and negative ways. While increases in body size, hormones, and muscle strength can improve athletic performance, there may be a temporary decline in balance skills and body control during the growth spurt. Quick increases in height and weight affect the body's centre of gravity. Sometimes the brain has to adjust to this higher observation point and a teen may seem a bit "clumsy".
Remember, Puberty is Temporary
It is important for parents to stay positive and seek out coaches who are well versed in the nuances of puberty and growth spurts. Being constantly shouted at by a coach or being put down by a disappointed parent can cause the child to quit the sport altogether.
Parents shouldn’t look to produce another Olympian; just make sure your kids fall in love with an activity in a lasting way so they become healthy adults. Support and encourage them to make fitness a way of life!
Andre de Sousa (BScPT)