One of the biggest changes that everyone everyone experiences during their lifetime is puberty. In countries all over the world, puberty symbolizes the start of transitioning into an adult. The actual definition of puberty is the point in an adolescent’s life where they become sexually mature and capable of reproduction. However; when most people think of puberty, they often think of so much more than just being able to create children. For both males and females, there are plenty of physical, mental, emotional, and social changes that are brought on by puberty. Puberty in males focuses on the release of testosterone, while estrogen is the important hormone for females. Physically, males begin to experience a deepening of their voice, growth spurts, increases in muscle mass, enlargement of the testes and penis, and and increase in body hair. Female physical changes include the development of breasts, the start of menstruation, growth spurts, weight gain, and the growth of body hair. For many people, myself included, puberty was filled with anxiety, fear, and excitement.

'Soon, you will start to notice changes in your body... massive, horrifying changes.'

Earlier this week I was reading over the sections that cover puberty in my developmental psychology textbook. I couldn’t help but go down memory lane and think about what I went though as an adolescent experiencing puberty. I was definitely a bit of a drama queen during that time, and I remember my emotions being like a tornado whipping around. I’m sure it didn’t help that I was a control freak and would feel like the world was ending every time something deviated from its expected path. If I was able to make it through puberty, I’m sure anyone can.

The textbook I was reading mentioned several times about late versus early bloomers. The more I read about the topic, the more interested in it I became. I never really thought about the subject much because I was pretty average. I also remember a lot of my friends were experiencing the same things as me, so that helped convince me I was “normal”. Globally, the ages that puberty hits have been consistently getting younger. Why is that? The  major factors that have been suggested are the increase in availability of food and health care. Kids are eating more and experiencing less diseases so they are healthy enough at younger ages to start puberty.I think it’s great that healthcare is improving, but it does create problems by leading to earlier puberty. Adolescents are going to be able to be able to reproduce sooner, and they are likely to attract the attention of older partners.

Additionally, there is significant variation among individuals and the age they start puberty. Adolescents living in the same country, in the same state, in the same family, even in the same house; still have a range of ages that they can reasonably expect to begin puberty, not an exact number. This leads to the issue of “late” and “early” bloomers. I think it’s really interesting to see just how much the timing of puberty can impact the rest of someone’s life. I also really want to know why there is so much variation and if there is a way to have ore control over it. I remember from middle school that the early and late bloomer were very easy to differentiate; which probably caused them considerable anxiety. The early ones were much more “developed” and generally towered over the other students, while the late ones were often more shy and the smallest kids in class. Of course, this wasn’t always the case, but it was the most common one.

Puberty is a beautiful, messy, and mysterious event in everyone’s life. While I definitely wouldn’t want to experience it again, it does make me happy to reflect on it. There is almost an irrational sense of accomplishment for making it though puberty and living to tell the tale. I feel like I was a completely different person before puberty versus after it, but I appreciate the experience.

Cultural Fun Fact!!

apache-sunrise-ceremony

An Apache girl during a Sunrise Ceremony. She’s being covered in a spiritual mixture of cornmeal, clay, and pollen for fertility.

Many cultures practice various ceremonies to mark puberty. One cool example is the Apache Sunrise Ceremony (na’ii’ees), which is a celebration of puberty in female Apache Indians. The summer after a girl has her first menstruation, she participates in a 4 day ceremony getting her in tune with her spiritual healing abilities and preparing her for womanhood. All the girls participating are covered in a cornmeal and clay mixture, then receive and give gifts. The ceremony is physically and spiritually strenuous because the girls dance, run, sing, chant, and pray for hours at a time. On the last day of the ceremony, the girls bless their community and provide healing to anyone who requests it.

The girls and their families spend months preparing for the ceremony because it is taken very seriously. A godmother is also chosen for each girl to help them build endurance and guide them through the celebration. The ceremony is expensive for the families to create, but provides the girls with special blessings and teaches them what it means to be a woman in that culture.

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