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Puberty - what it feels like

puberty; emotions; peer; pressure; parents; relationships; sexual; feelings;


Emotional changes

Although puberty refers to the physical changes when the body becomes sexually mature and ready to reproduce (have babies), there are also a lot of emotional changes at this time.

These happen for several reasons:

  • Young people have to deal with rapid physical change - all of a sudden you have a new body shape and size and you can begin to feel self-conscious about how you look.
  • You can sometimes feel embarrassed if you look and feel different to your friends.
  • Other people may start to respond to you differently. You look older and may be treated as an older person.
  • It can be difficult to cope with early physical changes, or it can be frustrating waiting for physical changes to happen.
  • There are lots of different situations, but here are some examples.
    • A 12-year-old female has physically matured into a young woman. Suddenly she is getting a lot of attention from a 17-year-old male who is interested in her sexually. He is treating her as older than she is because she looks older. Her early physical maturity means she is being forced to deal with a difficult grown-up situation.
    • A 16-year-old male is still short, has a squeaky voice compared to his friends, and is quite small physically. He may feel frustrated that his friends are all maturing while he looks younger than his years. Twelve months later he has been through a rapid growth spurt and "caught up" with his friends.
  • The rapid and abrupt release of hormones into your body can bring about extremes in emotions and mood.
    • It's a temporary imbalance and will settle down.
    • Your parents might complain about your moods, but it's just those wild hormones affecting the way you feel.
      • However, you are the person who is responsible for what you say and do, and you will need to control your behaviour.
      • This may be difficult for you because of hormonal changes, but you do need to be in charge of yourself.
  • The fast physical growth and other changes in your body can give you seesaw times of boundless energy then extreme tiredness, which can affect your mood as well.

Your thinking

The way you think changes around this time.

You're starting to choose your own standards and ideals, to form your own ideas, morals and values and rely less on your parents for knowledge about life and the world.

  • You may be starting to think about some deep questions like "who am I?" "why am I here?" or "what is the meaning of life?".
  • You're developing your own identity as an individual rather than as a part of the family. Some young people choose to do this in wild ways while others take a more subtle approach.
  • You may want more independence, while on the other hand, not want to give up the support of your parents just yet. This can mean that one minute you feel quite adult and the next you feel like a child again. It may mean that you act impulsively at times and do some very risky things.
  • Parents sometimes worry a lot when you want to go out on your own and do things independently.
    • Parents feel protective of their children and don't want their children to come to any harm.
    • They may either know first hand or have heard of some people who take advantage of young people.
    • They're probably quite aware of the risks that some young people take (they may have done them once themselves).
    • What this means is that there can be a conflict between parents who want their child safe (and at home?) and a young person who wants his or her independence (going out?).

Try to sit down and work out safety plans with your parents or caregivers.

For example these may include

  • your friends and their parent's addresses and phone numbers
  • what you should do if you feel unsafe
  • being home at a set time.

Peer pressure

Around the time of puberty many young people feel very strongly that they want to be like all their friends.

  • Peer groups are friendship groups.
  • Peer group pressure can be a supportive and positive, or a negative influence on the behaviour of the people in the group.
  • Adults often use the words "peer group pressure" when thinking about the difficulties that young people can get into, and become very worried about young people being with the ‘wrong’ group of friends.
  • Unfortunately, the anxiety parents feel about peer groups is supported by some of what young people do – for example, most smokers start smoking around the time of puberty.
  • See the topic Peer pressure to help you understand your feelings about this, and work out ways of having strong and positive friendship groups.

Getting through puberty

Puberty can be an unsettling time. It can also be an exciting time as you move from childhood to adulthood and take on the rights and responsibilities of adulthood.

  • Puberty can be difficult both for parents and young people as you adjust to the changes. Everyone needs to have patience.
  • Parents are learning too. If there are disagreements, you need to listen to what they have to say as well as letting them know your point of view.
  • Show them that you can take care of yourself in a mature and wise fashion.
  • Letting them know where you are and letting them know if you have a change of plans are examples of what you can do to show your parents you are acting responsibly and safely.
  • When you handle situations with them calmly and maturely, they'll come to realise how well you are able to look after yourself.

Mel says:

"Some people seem to go through puberty without any problems at all. Don't believe it! Everyone gets emotional at times. This is a good time for you to rely on good friends and trusted adults, and to learn how to be a good listener for your friends too. Remember that being a good friend means that you don't talk about things you are told in confidence - unless it is something you need to say to keep a friend safe".

Early and late puberty

Everyone is different so everyone has a different experience of puberty. Some people go though puberty early, and some go though it late. This is almost always normal.

But with early and late puberty sometimes people can find it really tough. When you experience puberty at a different time to your peers it can make you feel and look different. Sometimes people use this as an opportunity to pay you out or bully you.

People who experience late puberty can feel like they need to hide this from friends.

  • Guys for example might feel embarrassed about taking their shirt off in the changing rooms because they don’t have much hair on their upper body.
  • People can also avoid relationships due to late development.

People who experience early puberty don’t necessarily have it all good either.

  • Studies show early developers can have higher rates of physical violence and victimisation, being used and picked on.
  • The study suggests that its not necessarily puberty that is the problem, it’s the fact that the young people end up socialising early with older people before they are ready.

Experiencing puberty at a different time can make you feel embarrassed and make it hard to talk to others about it. But talking is usually the best thing you can do. Talking to your doctor would be a good idea to make sure that everything is developing normally.


South Australia

  • Youth Health Service:
  • Your family doctor.
  • Your local community health centre.


The KidsHealth.org website has lots of great info. The pages on Puberty and Growing up may be very interesting for you 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.
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