Young People Ask . . .
What Is Happening to My Body?
WONDERFUL changes have begun taking place in your body.
Right now, though, they may seem anything but wonderful. You may feel confused, embarrassed, or even terrified by what is happening to you. “I just wasn’t ready,” said one girl. “I thought, Oh, no, I don’t want this to start happening to me yet.” Said one boy: “I don’t know whether I’m weird or normal. I’m 13 and changes are happening in my body . . . I feel really different and alone sometimes and I’m really scared that someone is going to make fun of me.”
It is understandable that you might feel similarly. You are going through what one teenage girl described as the time her “body started to go crazy.” But what may seem “crazy” at the time is really an orderly process that is changing you from a child to an adult. It is called puberty. And despite its scary-sounding name, puberty is not some disease, nor are you the first one to go through it. Your mother and your father experienced it. Your schoolmates and other friends your age are probably going through it. And rest assured, you will survive.
But just what is this strange development that takes over your body?
The Chemistry of Puberty
The Bible says that some time after he turned 12 years old, “Jesus went on progressing . . . in physical growth.” (Luke 2:52) Yes, even Jesus Christ went through puberty. During puberty, you will experience a period of physical growth and development. Just what causes this growth to occur, though, is a real mystery, a miracle! We are reminded of a parable of Jesus in which he spoke of a man who planted a seed. Said Jesus: “The seed sprouts and grows tall, just how he does not know.” (Mark 4:27) Similarly, doctors can give us only a rough outline of what happens during puberty.
Somewhere between the ages of about 9 and 16, you are launched into puberty. (The age varies from person to person, and girls usually get a year or two head start.) Your brain begins a startling chain reaction by switching on a tiny gland above the roof of your mouth called the pituitary gland. The pituitary responds by manufacturing chemical messengers called hormones. These swim through your bloodstream and signal your reproductive organs to begin the manufacture of yet other hormones. A boy’s testicles primarily produce male hormones, such as testosterone; a girl’s ovaries, female hormones, such as estrogen.
These hormones, in turn, now signal yet other glands and organs to begin changing the way you look.
The Changes Girls Experience
If you are a girl, the first thing you may notice is the gradual enlargement of your breasts. Your hormones have triggered your mammary glands to begin developing. (These milk-producing glands give mothers the ability to feed their infants.) Your hormones also trigger the manufacture of fat, which gives your breasts their shape. Fat will also be deposited on your hips, thighs, and buttocks. You will gain weight and may experience a rapid growth spurt.
While most girls welcome these physical changes, not all girls welcome all of them. For example, the hair on your arms, legs, and underarms may become thicker and darker. Now, in some lands, such body hair may be considered unfeminine or unstylish. Fashion notwithstanding, it is a healthy sign that you are growing into womanhood.
Another unwelcome change may be the increased activity of your sweat glands—you will perspire more. The accompanying odor may embarrass you. But if you bathe frequently and wear clean clothing, there are rarely serious odor problems. Some youths also choose to use deodorants as further protection against odor.
One very personal development involves the growth of hair around your genital area. This is called pubic hair. If you haven’t been informed in advance about this, you could find it a bit scary. But it is perfectly normal and nothing to be embarrassed about.
Puberty may also trigger what The New Teenage Body Book called the “number-one [appearance] concern among teens”—skin problems. The changes in your body chemistry often result in oilier skin. Pimples and blackheads sprout. (According to one survey, acne problems afflicted nearly 90 percent of the teenagers polled!) Fortunately, the problem can usually be controlled with good skin care.—See the article “Can’t I Do Something About My Acne?” appearing in the February 22, 1987, issue of Awake!
The Changes Boys Experience
If you are a boy, the initial effects of puberty will not be as visible as a girl’s. As your reproductive system begins functioning, your genital organs gradually enlarge. Hair begins to grow around your genitals. Again, this is perfectly normal.
At the same time, you may experience a spurt in growth. Fat and muscle tissue are added to your body. You become bigger, stronger, your shoulders broaden. Your physique is gradually becoming less childlike and more manlike in appearance.
Another interesting change involves the growth of hair on your legs, chest, face, and under your arms. This too is spurred on by the hormone testosterone. The book Changing Bodies, Changing Lives, by Ruth Bell, quotes one youth as saying: “When I was fourteen I went around for about two weeks with this dirty smudge on my upper lip. I kept trying to wash it off but it wouldn’t wash. Then I really looked at it and saw it was a mustache.”
By the way, how much body hair you end up with has nothing to do with how manly you are; it is simply a matter of heredity. In other words, if your father has a hairy chest, the odds are strong that you will too. The same goes for facial hair. It usually takes until your late teens or early 20’s, though, for you to have to shave regularly.
You will have your moments of embarrassment, for sure. Boys too find that their sweat glands step up their activity. You may have to be particularly concerned about personal hygiene in order to avoid odor problems. You too may experience an outbreak of acne due to oilier skin.
During your mid-teens, your larynx will enlarge; your vocal cords will thicken and elongate. As a result, your voice will deepen. Some boys experience an amazingly fast transition from soprano to baritone. But for others, the voice changes gradually over an agonizingly long period of weeks or months. Rich, deep tones are punctuated by humiliating cracks and squeaks. Relax, though. Your voice will smooth out in due course. In the meantime, if you can laugh at yourself, it helps minimize the embarrassment.
The Most Important Growth
Growing up is wonderful and exciting! It can also be embarrassing and scary. One thing is for sure: You can neither speed up nor delay the process of growing up. So rather than greeting the changes wrought by puberty with hostility and fear, marvel at them, accept them graciously—and with a sense of humor. Realize that adolescence is not the end result but merely a phase. When the storm of puberty is over, you will emerge as a full-grown man or woman!
Never forget, though, that your most important growth involves, not your height, shape, or facial features, but your growth as a person—mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Said the apostle Paul: “When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a babe.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) It is not enough to look like an adult. You must gradually learn to act, speak, and think as an adult. Don’t become so concerned about what’s happening to your body that you forget to take care of “the inner man.”—2 Corinthians 4:16, The Jerusalem Bible.
Still, some aspects of puberty may be particularly distressing. How to deal with them will be the subject of future articles.
[Picture on page 23]
Spurts of growth make coat sleeves too short