What is puberty?
Puberty is the physical process of changing from a child to an adult. It obviously affects your sexual organs, but your whole body is involved as you change shape and size, sometimes in a remarkably short space of time.
Basically, the process is as follows:
* Stage one (aged around nine to 12): hormones, chiefly oestrogen and progesterone, are produced in quantity. You will probably not notice any bodily changes yet.
* Stage two (aged around nine to 15): your breasts will start to develop and you may find your pubic hair starts to appear. You will probably find you start to get taller around now and that your weight changes.
* Stage three (aged around 11 to 16): your breasts will continue to grow, though shapes can vary enormously between individuals. One breast may well grow more quickly than the other, but they will even out eventually. Your periods may start, usually irregularly at first. A clear vaginal discharge is often an early sign that your first period is on its way (within the next year or so). The age you start your periods is usually something that runs in families, so ask your mum when she started hers. You may find your body shape changes dramatically now as you grow.
* Stage four (aged around 11 to 17): your breasts become fuller and rounder, until they are nearly adult shape. You will probably start to get hair under your armpits and on your legs. Girls often find their voice changes in pitch, though nothing like as dramatically as boys’ voices. Girls, too, may find themselves with involuntary sexual responses as their sexual hormone levels increase. This can be disconcerting and embarrassing, but is perfectly natural.
* Stage five (aged around 14 to 18): the process is virtually complete, with your body and breasts more or less adult size (though taking the contraceptive pill may increase the size of your breasts later). You will probably find that your periods have become regular, though the exact length of the cycle varies between individuals.
What about emotions?
Puberty and adolescence are a very confusing time as you stop being a child, and it can feel as though you are in a battle zone. You will probably feel as though you have to fight your parents to achieve independence and privacy, and that even your own body is hardly yours as it is changing so rapidly. It may seem impossible to get your parents to understand you, but remember that they have been through it too. The more you can talk to them, the easier it will be. You will probably feel all sorts of pressures, whether from advertising, your peer group, boyfriend, teachers, parents, or even yourself. Remember that your emotions and feelings will sometimes be unpredictable and unexpected. But it does get easier in time, and you will be a fully-fledged adult when it is all over.