Puberty myths your child needs debunked

Puberty can be particularly daunting for kids as they start to approach adolescence. Our question box is always full of queries and concerns related to periods, mood swings, erections and the like. We actually receive so many questions related to periods that we’ve created a whole separate post dedicated to menstruation (see next week). But there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and kids can come up with pretty wild ideas. So as parents, it’s important that we help unpack with our young people what is and isn’t true about the changes of puberty. Here’s some common myths we often get asked about.

Myth: Puberty is scary and unpleasant

Fact: Puberty doesn’t have to be scary, and there can definitely be good things about it. Learning about puberty so that you have an understanding of what’s happening to the body can help stop it from being frightening or daunting. And many people might look forward to things like growing taller – or just growing up!  

Myth: Boys and girls hit puberty at the same time

Fact: Puberty will differ from person to person, but in general girls do begin puberty earlier than boys. Puberty usually begins between eight and 13 in girls, and nine and 15 in boys.

Myth: You can ‘catch’ puberty

Fact: Just because puberty started happening to a person’s best friend right before them, doesn’t mean they ‘caught’ it from them. Young people are often friends with people the same age as them, so it makes sense puberty will hit many peer groups at the same time. Puberty isn’t a virus – it’s something the body naturally does once it reaches a certain level of physical maturity and will start at a different time for everyone.

Myth: Puberty happens overnight

Fact: It might be years from the first signs of puberty to the last. Many things change and develop at puberty, and rarely does it happen all at once – certainly never overnight. In fact, puberty usually takes three to five years. While some of us might wish we could wake up 3 inches taller, the body doesn’t work like this. And that’s probably for the best.

Myth: Only boys’ voices get deeper

Fact: People of all genders can find their voices get deeper at puberty. You might just notice some boys’ voices more than girls’, as they have a bigger change and sometimes vocal ‘cracks’ or ‘breaks’.

Myth: Wet dreams aren’t normal

Fact: Wet dreams, or nocturnal emissions, are when you ejaculate or secrete vaginal fluids during sleep – and they are completely normal. You might have been dreaming about something sexually pleasurable, or you might not remember your dreams at all. Wet dreams during puberty are not only normal, but they can also be quite common (although not everyone will have them). 

Myth: Puberty means you’ll develop crushes on people

Fact: While a lot of people will experience their first crushes during puberty, not everyone will. Some people might get crushes earlier in life, some might a little later, some much later – and some never will! All are normal, and there’s nothing wrong with how it happens for each individual.

Myth: Acne is caused by bad food and being unclean

Fact: While hygiene and eating well are always important, pimples can be unavoidable due to hormonal changes during puberty. As the body develops, these hormones stimulate the sebaceous glands to make more sebum, and the glands can become overactive. Too much sebum can clog the pores with oil and lead to acne. If pimples or acne are causing any distress or self-consciousness, talk to a trusted adult or your doctor.

Myth: A penis has a bone in it

Fact: Some people might believe this to be true because of the word ‘boner’, a slang term for an erection. But in fact, there are no bones in the penis. It’s actually blood that causes the penis to become hard and stand away from the body during an erection.

Myth: You will grow taller as soon as puberty starts to hit

Fact: Puberty doesn’t happen all at once; it happens in stages. Often, there’s several growth spurts during puberty. Some people might be excited to grow taller, and it will happen, but it might not happen at the start or at the same time as other developments.

Myth: Everyone at school will see if you get an erection

Fact: The clothes you’re wearing are usually enough to hide erections, but if you’re worried, you can always tie a jumper around your waist. Erections also normally go away by themselves within a few minutes. Concentrating on something like doing multiplications in your head can also help them to disappear quicker.

Myth: If you have a crush on someone, it means you’re going through puberty

Fact: People can get crushes at any age, including before they reach puberty. It’s not a definite sign that you’re reaching puberty and it’s not uncommon for children as young as five to have crushes. It’s just that crushes often become deeper and more pronounced at puberty.

Myth: Puberty means you won’t like your parents anymore

Fact: It’s true that puberty is often a time when young people begin to seek and form identities outside of their family ties. They’ll want to test out their own opinions and try to solve problems on their own. This is in part due to the hormonal changes in the brain (puberty isn’t all physical!). But it doesn’t mean that all, or even most, young people will suddenly dislike their parents or no longer want to spend time with them. They’ll still need their parents for help and support.

Myth: Only girls develop breasts

Fact: ‘Gynecomastia’ is overdevelopment of the male breast. In preteen and teen boys, gynecomastia can be caused by the hormonal changes of puberty and breast buds can be common. The buds tend to go away within the first year of their growth.

Myth: Only boys get sweaty and smelly during puberty

Fact: Hormonal changes increase sweat production in people of all genders throughout puberty. And it isn’t just regular sweat either; your sebaceous glands begin producing oils that are a particular favourite of odour-producing bacteria.  

Myth: Mood swings will make you crazy

Fact: It’s true that the hormonal changes in your brain that happen over puberty can make emotions more changeable and pronounced, but they don’t turn you into an entirely different person. And these emotions can be managed through healthy strategies, like say, going for a walk, exercising, listening to music, talking to a friend or trusted adult, or distracting yourself.