Growth During Puberty: Growing in All Directions

Jan 5, 2022

by Camille Everett

Creator of Be That Place

Handwritten notes and lunchtime chats from students kickstarted Camille's mission to help families teach sex ed at home. She is a graduate of Utah State University with a bachelor’s in Secondary Health & English Education. She loves having real conversations while devouring bowls of chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

growth during puberty

Take a look in any 6th grade classroom. There are kids of all heights and body shapes. Some may look remarkably developed and others don’t appear to be developing at all. Growth during puberty really varies during these years.

Kids grow the fastest about 1-2 years after puberty has started, and puberty can last 2-5 years. Girls will generally reach their adult height by age 14-15 and boys will reach it around age 16. 

Puberty often starts earlier for girls than it does for boys. In fact, there’s usually a 1-2 year start difference. This means that for a few years in middle school, many girls are taller than the boys. Eventually this all evens out.

Normal growth, helped along by good nutrition, quality sleep, and physical activity habits, is one of the best indicators of good health during these years.

Here’s an overview of what’s to come.

Growth spurts during puberty

Kids experience a few different growth spurts throughout childhood. But puberty brings a whole new meaning to the phrase. 

It’s normal for kids to grow an average of 2 inches a year. But during puberty, kids can grow 3-4 inches per year for 2-3 years in a row. That’s quite a lot of height in a relatively short amount of time. 

Basically all the muscles and bones are a part of this growth spurt, although not equally. Both the trunk of the body and the legs contribute to added height. Typically the legs will reach their peak length first and the shoulders will reach their adult width last.

The first parts of the body to reach their adult size are the head, hands and feet. This may make kids look a bit out of proportion and maybe even act a little clumsy. But don’t worry. The rest of the body will catch up.

Dealing with growing pains

Growth during puberty can create pains that ache or throb. Usually this is in the legs, most often in the calves, behind the knees, or in the front of the thighs. Unfortunately these pains tend to get worse at night and they happen in both legs. Not feeling good is certainly not fun, but growing pains are really common.

Medical experts don’t really understand why growing pains happen. As parents, we can try to make it more comfortable for kids by massaging the legs, using a heating pad, giving a pain reliever, or having kids stretch the leg muscles. 

Growing pains can make it more challenging to sleep. As frustrating as it is to see a kid out of bed when they’re not supposed to be, this may be a situation where patience wins out. Parents can be understanding that it may be genuinely challenging to fall asleep. Communicating alternate activities that don’t disturb the rest of the household could come in handy.

Weight gain can be startling for some kids

Height isn’t the only growth change during puberty. Muscles are also growing and developing which starts to fill out the shape of the body.

Kids will be gaining weight as their body puts on muscle mass. It’s normal too for the waist to thicken while the rest of the body is growing. The waist will reappear as the body continues to fill out. 

Before puberty, boys and girls are comparable in strength. But after puberty, boys develop larger muscles which does increase their strength above that of girls of a similar size. 

There is a variety of normal weights during puberty. If you’re concerned that your child is gaining unhealthy weight, it’d be wise to talk to their pediatrician. A pediatrician can look at their growth over time to see if anything looks out of the ordinary. 

Female growth during puberty

Girls who are really active may start puberty later since girls need a certain amount of body fat when puberty starts. The opposite is also true. Girls that carry additional weight may start puberty sooner since this can affect hormone levels. 

Breast development is the first sign of puberty for girls. It starts slowly with breast buds forming under the nipple area. Within a few years, girls may feel more comfortable wearing a simple bra, even if they haven’t grown a lot yet. It’s important to realize that breasts can continue to grow until around age 18. It’s also normal for one breast to be larger than the other. Body weight and hormones can affect breast size as well, so the breasts can change over time.

And of course, girls will get more curvy hips. Their hips, thighs and bottom will start to build up fat which will make them wider. Eventually their waist will narrow although some girls are more curvy while others are more straight. Genetics play a big role in the shape of each individual.

There are a lot more physical changes that happen during puberty so it’s important to help girls feel comfortable and confident with the way their body is changing.

Male growth during puberty

Boys will see a lot of changes in muscle size and strength. They will continue to fill out with muscle mass even until their late teen years. Boys also experience other physiological changes that make them capable of running faster and longer and doing more strenuous physical work than girls.

Shoulders will eventually become broader than the hips, although shoulders are typically the last part of the body to reach their adult-like appearance.

Boys typically become sexually mature around the age of 13, which is about a year later than girls. While we don’t often talk to our boys about the ways in which their genitals are changing, these changes are most definitely happening. Sexual growth follows a predictable pattern of stages throughout puberty.

Clothes are important to these kids

You may find your son or daughter growing out of clothes within a short time frame. This can be frustrating, especially if money is tight. 

But it’s good for parents to realize that clothes are a really big deal to kids this age. These kids are hyper aware of their changing body and if their body fits in with the other bodies around them. 

Be patient with them. The goal with clothes is to help kids feel good about the body they are growing into. You may spend a little more money on clothes during this time, but realize that you’re laying an important framework for positive body image.  

Healthy habits

Parents should encourage kids to develop healthy habits around food, sleep and physical activity to give their bodies an awesome chance to grow well. 

Nutrition is important to overall development during puberty. The problem is parents only have some influence over what kids put in their mouths.  

Including your kids in meal planning and preparation may help out. Help them understand that fruits, veggies, nuts — a lot of the simple foods — are some of the fastest and most convenient snacks. When kids become more involved in food choices in the home they tend to be better at monitoring their own health. 

Sleep is also really important for growth. Human growth hormone is released in bursts during the day, but is more steadily released during sleep. It’s actually really important for kids to get a good amount of sleep for them to grow in a healthy way. These kids need 8-10 hours of sleep a night.

And we can’t forget physical activity. Some kids are really good at being active, and some kids aren’t. Have kids walk or bike to friends houses if possible, instead of driving them. Go on a family or one-on-one walk after dinner a few nights a week. Encourage active activities with friends and make it possible for them to happen. Consider giving physically active gifts (lessons, memberships, equipment) for birthdays and holidays instead of something that keeps them on the couch.

When it comes to healthy habits, example is one of the best ways of teaching. Share your goals with them, and they might just make some of their own goals.