From Puberty to Adulthood
by Dr. Leela Francisco
Puberty is defined as a stage of development during which the ovaries or testes begin to function. They produce hormones that trigger genital changes and other secondary changes in appearance that reflect the ability of the body to now reproduce or have children.
But what exactly are those changes?
1. Physical changes
There are external changes which are first to appear, and are called "secondary sexual characteristics". This includes the appearance of hair in areas like the groin, underarm, face and chest.
For girls the breast buds begin to develop and are usually associated with a little tenderness and soreness. The developmental changes in the ovaries result in the first period or 'Menarche' which is usually between the ages of 9 to 15 years. This development continues and the whole process is completed in 3-4 years.
For boys, puberty continues with an increase in the size of the male genitals. Physical growth occurs with an enlargement of the hands and feet, and is later followed by growth in the arms, legs, trunk and chest. Other changes include a deepening of the voice, an increase in muscle mass, and the ability to be sexually active.
2. Hormonal Changes
So what is it that the hormones actually do?
During puberty you will probably grow approximately 4 inches per year. Your voice will change and may become deeper, secondary hair is growing thicker, and your skin is changing with pimples sometimes popping up. These hormones are chemicals in your bloodstream that will turn you into an adult man or woman and now make it possible for you to have a child.
The Pituitary Gland is a small gland in your brain that controls all the sex hormones in your body. It works via a messaging system that is a positive and negative feedback between the ovaries in girls and testes in boys. This results in the secretion of other hormones in the body that stimulate areas like hair follicles, the internal lining of the uterus, breast tissue, vocal chords, etc., which are sensitive to these messages, and the sexual development continues.
The main hormone in boys is called testosterone, produced in the testes. Girls' predominant hormones are called estrogen and progesterone, produced mainly in the ovaries. These hormones are the main reason why there are physical and emotional changes during puberty.
3. Psychological and emotional changes
Changes in your body also trigger psychological and emotional changes and are caused by hormones:
- You begin to be more aware of yourself and your feelings and needs with regard to people around you and especially with the opposite sex.
- You begin to form likes and dislikes to certain situations and develop a greater awareness of what you want to do and achieve in life.
The changing and increasing hormonal levels in your body also cause you to react in 'weird ways' to situations that did not normally provoke these emotions before. One could feel intensely angry at one point and then intensely sad and cry bitterly the next.
This can get quite overwhelming for you as well as for those around (family and friends). The best thing to do when this begins to happen is:
- Sit back and identify what you are actually feeling, rather than look at the emotional reaction and wonder where it came from.
- Realize that these mood swings are normal for this period of time and will settle down once most of the development is complete.
Beginning to be aware of the feelings behind the emotional outbursts is the first step to understanding and accepting who you are as a person unique person.
To give you an example: You tend to get very angry and actually shout with rage whenever someone compares you unfavorably with someone else. You may even weep in anger and feel jealous that you are not getting the attention you want. So you have identified the feeling that provoked such an inappropriate emotional response. Once you are past the fluctuating hormones, you may not get so easily provoked into a reaction, but you would still be a person who is sensitive to being compared unfavorably with another. For the long term, that would be an area that you would need to mature and grow in, emotionally. Talking it over with someone you trust and reading helpful books allows you identify these feelings and learn to grow through them emotionally and spiritually.
You are not alone
Puberty is a sensitive time of all round development. We develop a lot of emotional scars about our body and self-image during this stage that can last all our lives, depending on our experiences (good and bad) and the emotional and instructional support we receive. We pick up ideas and attitudes from people around us or from the media (television, movies, books, advertisements) about physical and social expectations, which are not necessarily appropriate and are often misleading with regard to reality as well as about the value systems we need to adopt.
It always helps to have mature guidance through this to understand oneself and learn one's uniqueness. The best people to talk this over with for information and guidance are health care professionals you trust (doctor), your parents or a school or spiritual counselor.
Just as you are growing physically during adolescence, you need to grow emotionally as well, to handle the major responsibilities of adulthood. When this is supported with a Spiritual growth that allows you to be aware of the unique and gifted person God intended you to be, you can be sure you will be a wonderfully balanced adult.
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© 2004 Dr. Leela Francisco. All rights reserved.