Puberty: how a doctor can help both boys and girls

By: Osler Health International
Posted on: 27 Jan 2022

Puberty is a time where many physical, psychological and emotional changes occur. During this transition from child to adult, there may be times when you feel unsure about how to provide support to your child. Understanding common concerns and issues during puberty can help prepare you to address any concerns that your child may have during this stage of development. Here are five common issues experienced by boys and girls during puberty.

1. Acne & body odour

Acne is one of the most common issues among growing teens. Children entering puberty may find their skin getting increasingly oily, particularly on their faces. This is a normal occurrence resulting from hormonal changes, which activates glands and increase the production of oil. As such, children may experience issues like spots, increased body odour and greasy hair.

If your child is concerned about acne, it’s best to consult a doctor about the recommended treatment options. While there are over-the-counter acne treatments available, many of these products contain astringents that dry out the skin, which may aggravate the condition. It is also important to get timely treatment for moderate to severe acne to prevent scarring.

Body odour can be a particular problem – especially in the humid tropical weather in Singapore. It can be managed with good hygiene. Encourage your teen to shower regularly and use deodorant. Caffeine and spice may increase sweat production and body odour, so cutting down on those foods may help. However, if body odour from excessive sweating is becoming an issue for your child, speak to your doctor to rule out any potential underlying conditions. Your doctor may also prescribe stronger products to tackle body odour issues.

2. Menstrual issues

While the average age for girls to get their first period is 12, it’s normal to get it anywhere between 10 and 15 years old. It is also normal for periods to be irregular for up to 1-2 years after the first period. However, see a doctor if your child is experiencing any of the following menstrual problems: 

  • Have not had her period by 16 years of age 
  • Have had her period for more than 2 years but still experiencing irregularity 
  • Severe cramping that doesn’t get better with over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen 
  • Heavy bleeding 
  • Periods that last more than a week 
  • Other severe PMS symptoms that interfere with daily activities

It is also worth noting that extreme weight gain or weight loss can affect the menstrual cycle. Being underweight, putting on a significant amount of weight and engaging in extreme physical activity can cause delays or changes in the period cycle.

3. Body image issues

During puberty, your child may be more sensitive and self-conscious about their physical changes and appearance. With exposure to media and unrealistic ideals of beauty, teens may compare themselves to peers and celebrities that they see on TV and online. They may also take it upon themselves to achieve the “perfect” body, which can give rise to an unhealthy obsession with weight and body image.

Weight obsession can result in eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Keep a lookout for these warning signs in your child that may signify a more severe underlying issue: 

  • Going on extreme diets 
  • Being overly concerned about gaining weight 
  • Refusing to eat in public 
  • Spending a lot of time in the bathroom after eating 
  • Dizziness or fainting 
  • Absence of periods
  • Abnormally low body weight 
  • Thinning hair

If you suspect that your child has an eating disorder, please seek medical attention immediately. At Osler Health, we have doctors that have supported many families through the distress of eating disorders.

4. Mental health

Apart from physical changes, it is also common for teens to undergo mood and behavioural changes during puberty. While these changes may not necessarily indicate mental health concerns, it is essential to take note of the following warning signs

  • Drastic behavioural changes 
  • Sad and withdrawn behaviour for more than two weeks 
  • Severe mood swings
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Drug or alcohol consumption 
  • Lack of interest in daily activities
  • Self-harm

If you suspect that your child is struggling with mental health issues, it’s best to consult with an experienced medical professional. Mental health issues are unlikely to resolve on their own, so we recommend seeking appropriate treatment and support as soon as possible. 

5. Sexuality

Due to hormonal and physical changes, adolescence is a time of change and exploration. Teens may start to have feelings of sexual attraction and ponder about their sexuality. These feelings and thoughts may be confusing and overwhelming, especially for those who are attracted to the same sex. 

Regardless of sexual orientation, it can be challenging for teens to learn about sex and relationships. Therefore, it is important to encourage your child to talk about their feelings and any issues that they may be facing regarding their sexuality. Speaking with a doctor or counsellor can also help them cope with these complex feelings. At Osler Health, the doctors are seen as a ‘safe space’ by many teens where they can discuss their emerging emotions in confidence. 

We also have the following Factsheet on Teen Mental Health with have various resources.

If your child has any of these concerns, Osler Health can help. Speak to our kind and experienced doctors today.

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