Every year I see thousands of children who come through Ghana’s national spelling programme, The Spelling Bee. The average age of a Speller is 10 and they tend to come back for another three consecutive years if they didn’t win during their earlier attempts – and my word, these Spellers change so much within that space of three years that I could easily walk past them, without making them out!
Puberty – that’s what accounts for the seeming drastic changes that occur in many of my Spellers’ cases. Puberty is basically the process of a child’s body slowly turning into an adult’s. Puberty may usually begin between 11 (for girls) and 12 (for boys) but it varies from person to person based on many other factors so don’t worry if you’re there already or yet to be. The process of puberty can take up to 10 years; meaning, your body could take up to 10 years to completely transform into an adult one…and it cannot be rushed.
We cannot talk about puberty without addressing the almighty hormones; you have heard about them, right? Hormones are messages our brain sends to our bodies to begin to change – so body hair growth, voice change, breast development and all the changes that come with growing. The bottom line is puberty is a normal and healthy part of development for both boys and girls.
How do we notice puberty taking place in our bodies? Whilst this varies from body to body and gender to gender there are some common similarities. Let’s have a look:
Acne/Spots: this can happen in both boys and girls. The hormones cause oils to build up on the skin and clog pores, and can develop on the face, back, or chest. Some get very bad acne, and if there’s a family history of it, it’s highly likely you will also experience it. Generally, you can treat acne by washing the affected areas at least twice daily with a gentle soap. If it’s severe and bothers you, get your parents to take you to see a dermatologist.
Body Odour: Your sweat glands grow larger during puberty, meaning you will sweat more, and in different parts of your body, especially after an intense physical activity. You usually will sweat from you underarms; sweat is the body’s natural way of ridding itself of toxins and keeping your body cool within. Sweat can naturally cause body odour – a normal, unpleasant smell which all humans have. You can combat this (as most people do) by bathing with soap regularly and using deodorant (check with your parents first, they may have other options for you).
Body hairs: apart from the hair that grows on your head (which is part of your body) puberty brings on the growth of hairs in places you didn’t have before – your armpits, your vaginal and penile area, your legs and arms. Again, it is normal to have such hair growth in both boys and girls, so don’t feel awkward especially if you’re a girl. You should definitely begin to shave your underarms, vaginal and penile areas – keeping a lot of hair in these areas in this hot climate of ours adds to the body odour you’re trying to eliminate. Ask your guardian/parents to teach you how to shave these areas properly as they’re very sensitive.
Breasts: It is possible that some boys during puberty experience some degree of breast enlargement. All boys are born with a small amount of breast tissue but once their hormone levels balance (where the testosterone take over and become more stable) the breast enlargement ceases.
However, breast enlargement is more a female feature during puberty. It starts at various stages for every girl and comes in different shapes and sizes; just like our bodies. The breast has a sensitive part, the nipple which usually needs extra coverage; the breast itself also need support. This coverage and support is found in the’ bra’ (aka brassiere) – make sure you get the help of an adult in choosing the kind of bra that will give you the support and coverage your breasts need.
There are more specific puberty changes to each gender which I cannot exhaust in this slim column; but I’m sure you will find many resources online (YouTube for those of you who prefer videos) about puberty that will enlighten and inform you some more. Oh, and let me add this – do read up and or watch videos about puberty in the gender opposite to you. You need to know what happens with them also – you could use that information to help your friends of that gender.