Dealing with Early Puberty

What to know if you're the first of your friends to start puberty.

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on November 17, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

Puberty isn't easy -- especially when you go through it before any of your friends.

"It's a huge amount of change in a very short period of time," says Pamela Murray, MD, MPH. "Change is always tough." Murray is a pediatrics professor at West Virginia University.

Your body is going to go through a lot in just one to two years:

  • Growth spurt: Before you start your period, you can grow up to 4 inches in just one year.
  • New curves: You'll gain weight, especially in your hips, and your breasts will grow.
  • More hair: You'll get hair under your arms, in your pubic area, and on your legs.
  • Period starts: You'll get your first menstrual period.

You may also smell different (hello, body odor), feel more moody than you used to, and get pimples. On top of that, boys -- and sometimes, men -- may look at you more.

Here's how to deal with being the first in your crowd to reach puberty.

Puberty: When?

Many girls start puberty at about age 11 but some can start even sooner, such as age 8 or 9.  But it doesn't happen all at once.

Usually, you'll have a growth spurt first. Then your breasts grow. Body hair and pimples will pop up. Finally, at around age 12, you get your first period.

That's the average. But every girl is different. That's why you could be wearing a bra while all your friends are still flat as a board.

Some girls start puberty really early, such as second or third grade. So even if none of your friends have gotten breasts or their period, you can be sure that other girls your age definitely have.

Tricky Time

If you look a lot older than you are, that can be a problem.

"It's a tricky situation because although your body is fully developed, you're still 10 or 11 on the inside, which makes you very vulnerable," says gynecologist Crystin Megan Tirone, MD.

At 10 or 11, you may feel mature, but you're not old enough to understand the consequences of your actions. That can lead to taking risks -- with drugs, alcohol, and boys.

Vanessa Topp, an Atlanta teen, remembers how embarrassing those body changes were. She got her period, and breasts, when she was 10 -- two years before all her friends.

Topp looked much older than she was -- and boys noticed.

"I remember one time we were at a dinner party at my parents' friends' house. Their son was 17, and I had just turned 12. He was going out with a bunch of his friends and he asked his mom if he could take me along because he thought I was cute," she says. "I felt really awkward in those situations." 

Boys are just one part of the awkwardness of puberty. You also have to deal with periods -- and with a body that's changing in lots of ways.

Getting Ready for Puberty

If you're just starting puberty, here's how to get ready for all those changes that are going to happen to your body.

  • Talk to an adult. Tell a trusted adult -- such as your mom, an aunt, or your school nurse -- aboutwhat's bothering you. Your friends -- not so much. They might mean well, but you really want someone who knows more and has been there, done that.
  • Become a period expert. Ask your mom to show you how to use a tampon and/or pad. Practice a few times, so you'll know what to expect. Always keep a few pads or tampons at home and in your locker at school, just in case your period surprises you.
  • Go bra shopping. As your breasts grow, you'll need some support, especially if you play sports. Shop for your first bra with your mom or another woman. Make sure it's the right size --  a woman who works in a store's bra department can help with that.
  • Talk to your doctor. You don't have to see a gynecologist yet, but you should visit a doctor you can talk to about your changing body. If you've been seeing a male doctor and you'd feel more comfortable talking about periods and other girl stuff with a woman, ask your parents if you can switch doctors.
  • Be choosy about your friends. It can be tempting to hang out with an older crowd, but that's not always best for you. Stick with people your own age. And if an older guy, or a man, pays a lot of attention to you, wants to takes you places where adults go, or buys you expensive things, you need to tell an adult so that you stay safe, even if you think he's totally harmless. "You do need to have some suspicions," Murray says.
  • Think positive. Looking different than your friends can be hard on your self-esteem. Instead of seeing your changing body as a bad thing, embrace your new curves. When you look in the mirror, learn to love the new you. "Celebrate who you are and be positive and confidant in your own image," Tirone says.

"Do things that make you feel good about yourself in general, and your body in particular," Murray says.

Some ideas: Play a sport. Dance. Join the chorus if you can sing. You get the idea: Do things that are fun, healthy, and help you feel good.  

Remember, you're not an oddball for developing early. So don't let anyone make you feel like an outcast. You're a pioneer -- the first one to take that big step toward adulthood. And you won't be alone for long. If your friends give you a hard time, remind them that puberty is just around the corner for them, too.

"Don't be ashamed. It's perfectly natural what's happening to you," Topp says.

Show Sources


Vanessa Topp, Atlanta.

Pamela Murray, MD, MPH, professor and vice-chair for faculty development, division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, West Virginia University School of Medicine.

Nemours Foundation: "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Puberty." 

Rogol A. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2000.

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Puberty: What to Expect When Your Child Goes Through Puberty."

Crystin Megan Tirone, MD, FACOG, department of obstetrics and gynecology, Johns Hopkins Medicine All Children's Hospital, St. Petersburg, Fla.

© 2011 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info