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Understanding Puberty: Changes, Challenges, and Sexual Education for Youth

  • Post category:Upbringing
  • Reading time:13 mins read

Onset and Characteristics of Puberty

For this period, the most significant changes are in the appearance and structure of the body. Pubertal changes begin in girls earlier than in boys; in female children, puberty ends on average two years earlier than male children.

In childhood, boys and girls differ from each other mainly only in the structure of the genital organs. Other parts of the body carry only slight or barely perceptible characteristics of a particular sex. Young men are characterized by an enlarged larynx, stronger growth of the shoulder girdle bones, and generally greater massiveness of the skeleton and musculature.

The first menstruation occurs in girls and the first nocturnal emission (semen spillage) in boys – these are reliable signs that puberty has begun. Along with the sudden growth of the whole body, the sexual organs also grow. Sex hormones support the development of secondary sexual traits and are the cause of these traits being maintained throughout life. They eroticize the nervous system, causing increasingly clear manifestations of the sex drive.

The first menstruation (menarche) usually occurs between the ages of 11 and 15, and most often at the age of 13 and 14. The term menarche depends on many factors: on the health and nutrition of the girl, on her lifestyle, and on the hygienic conditions in which she develops. In some girls, menstruation is regular, painless from the beginning and lasts an average of 5-6 days; in others, they appear very irregularly, with a break of several months.

The Importance of Sexual Education

Menstruation and nocturnal emission should be important topics in the sexual education of youth. Young people can be saved from many emotional upheavals related to these developments in their body. Only 6% of girls receive their first menstruation with joy and pride, 13% react with depression and fear, and the rest welcome this important manifestation of their femininity with indifference.

In addition to physical manifestations of sexuality, boys sometimes also experience emotional upheavals related to emission – and this can be prevented by properly preparing the boy for puberty. If fear or disgust become fixed, it can happen that a young man later in life is burdened with his sexual life in terms of potency disorders.

Manifestations of Puberty

Some girls have an enlarged thyroid gland, so their neck thickens in the shape of a mild goiter. It is usually a transient phenomenon that occurs in connection with major changes in the work of the endocrine glands. Goiter, in fact, disturbs the appearance of a young person, and this can have a negative impact on her mental life.

Acne is an expression of impaired sebaceous gland function in the skin, which is related to changes in the work of the hormonal system. Boys and girls with a pimpled face are exposed to emotional difficulties in social contact, just when they most want to please their surroundings. Careful and systematic skincare and possible regulation of the diet can prevent the appearance of pimples, or these unpleasant changes on the face can be significantly alleviated.

A sudden increase in skeleton and musculature during puberty causes a transient mismatch of the young person’s movements. This phenomenon is more common in boys than in girls; it happens that the movements become clumsy and insufficiently measured. In the case of youth, this fact should be taken into account, so that educators do not scold the child for mistakes for which it is not responsible.

A change in voice can also expose a boy to unpleasant reactions from the environment. If educators are ironic towards such a child, and make jokes about him, there is a danger that the child will suffer mentally. The child should be given the opportunity to affirm himself with other abilities.

Even before puberty, the boy’s reproductive organ (penis) occasionally stiffens. But in puberty, this is no longer the result of mechanical stimuli, but of an intensified sexual urge. Fear, shame, feelings of discomfort or any negative emotions related to sexuality can make it difficult to cope with sexual activity later in life.

Puberty is characterized by an enhanced sensitivity to various sensory stimuli, especially to sounds. This sensory hypersensitivity may partly be the reason for the increased irritability of young people and their intolerance of the environment. Puberty may also be partly based on the increased interest in music among young people.

Intelligence reaches its peak in a young man’s development at the age of 16, according to the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). By 21 there may be some progress in intellectual abilities on a smaller scale, but only on a very small scale.

Many boys and girls behave in puberty in a conspicuous, demonstrative, overbearing and impudent way, precisely because the adult environment constantly lets them know that they are still children. The lack of understanding of this instinctive need to feel like an adult is the cause of many conflicts between the young and the old generation.

With a little tact, discernment, and goodwill, both parents and teachers can easily meet the pubescents’ need to feel like adults. They are not and cannot be, and they know it well somewhere in the depths of their consciousness. But that’s exactly why they don’t want to admit it, thus they are fighting frantically to at least look like adult.

The desire to emphasize apparent maturity, which cannot be affirmed in a healthy way, often seeks satisfaction in the habit of smoking and consuming alcoholic beverages. Such behavior, which should be evidence of supposed adulthood or even “masculinity,” is often an expression of young people’s resistance to authoritative educators.

Pubescents do not engage in sexual intercourse because they cannot do without it, but only because they defy prohibitions. Strong feelings of inferiority, emotional poverty and mental insecurity are the motives that most often drive young people to have sex. They are the result of the wrong upbringing of the youth, from early childhood.

Pubescents of both sexes cannot experience the full realization of their sexuality in a sexual relationship. Their sexual relationships are often short-lived and relatively superficial. They are often burdened with disappointment in the opposite sex and dissatisfaction with themselves. Disappointment instills in them distrust of the other sex and their own sexual abilities.

Sex education can help to prevent the sexual activity of immature youth. In addition, a proper general upbringing of a young person is needed, from the beginning of life. If the child gradually forms into a healthy, firm and balanced personality, it will not have the need to randomly surrender to sexual life.

In some cases, friendship begins to imperceptibly turn into a deeper emotional interest, sexual sympathy and love. They become lonely so that they can get to know each other better in more intimate psychic contact, get closer and express their feelings. But because of insufficient emotional maturity, such pubertal loves “remain more on the level of a desire to experience love than they really grow into true love”.

In girls, the sexual urge at the time of puberty is still vaguely expressed, hidden, so they are not even aware of it yet. That is why a mentally healthy girl at that age does not yet show a desire for closer physical contact with a boy. Her sexuality is manifested in the need for male company, in the desire for young men to court her.

Boys become aware of their sexual desires earlier, but are still clumsy in approaching girls and rarely dare to clearly express their sex drive in the company of a girl. For a girl whom he “dates”, he often does not feel a strong sexual need; such a dichotomy of sexual behavior is normal for young men of pubertal age. Only later, in the years of adolescence, will this dissociation of physical and mental in the young man’s consciousness give way to a more mature sexuality, which will unite the emotional interest in a certain girl and the sexual desire for her into an inseparable whole.

Emotional Instability in Pubescents

Masturbation is a general and regular occurrence in boys, it is an expression of the separation of the sexual urge from the emotional component of sexuality. If violently suppressed, young men in most cases continue to masturbate, but with feelings of guilt, fear, and shame. Or they give it up, but then commit violence against their own nature, so they have to spend a lot of energy on suppressing the sex drive. Both are harmful because they hinder the young man’s further psychosexual maturation.

In their quest to be adults, pubescents of both sexes pay close attention to what other people think of them. They like to identify with various people outside the family circle, whom they consider their ideals. By identifying with such an idol of the group, with some film actor, sports champion or pop music star, the pubescent also identifies with the whole group. This is an expression of the strong need of the pubertal psyche for belonging.

Youth in its puberty is characterized by emotional instability. Strong self-confidence is instantly replaced by severe discouragement, or joy turns into sadness. Affective reactions in puberty are calmer and more settled than in prepubertal age, but they are still lively and tend to go to extremes. Pubescents are very sensitive, easy to plan, they are offended or cry for a small thing. They are instantly enthusiastic about something, uncritical and fanatical, but their enthusiasm easily subsides.

A certain emotional imbalance of youth in puberty is mostly an expression of their life insecurity. The pubescent does not yet feel enough strength in themselves to accept it all and experience it in a full-fledged way. The environment imposes new obligations on them, expects them to behave differently, demands seriousness, responsibility and adjustment to its norms. And the young person is not sure that they is capable of satisfying all that is required of them.

In puberty, pubescents discuss their attitudes towards life, analyze their past, fantasize about the future, build their life philosophy, take a certain attitude towards the environment. Everything they see around them and in themselves they receive with enthusiasm and love or with utter disgust and hatred. The consequence of building your inner world is a strong tendency to read, an interest in romance and running away from everything, including school.

Identification with Peers and Socialization

During puberty, children carefully observe their body, vigilantly monitor all changes in it and compare them with analogous phenomena in their peers. A certain lag behind peers can cause both sexes to feel their own immaturity, inferiority and inability to keep up with other young people of the same age. Such an emotional reaction to the process of puberty maturity is manifested in the behavior of a young person.

When educators notice that puberty occurs slowly and late in a child, they need to be especially careful in their upbringing. Such a child should be maximally encouraged, giving it as many different opportunities to affirm itself in a positive way, and point out to it the insignificance of individual differences in the time and intensity of pubertal changes in the body.

A marked ambivalence occurs towards parents and teachers. Young people want good emotional contact with their educators, they want their friendship and friendly attitude towards themselves. But at the same time they resist their influence, they do not recognize them as the supreme authority. In doing so, they justify their loyalty and obedience, but also their defiance of them.

In puberty, pubescents are attentive, affectionate, and sentimental towards their parents. But that doesn’t stop them from being rude and defiant a little later. If a strict regime in the family prevents them from expressing their defiance there, they will probably show it on the street or at school. This is why teachers so often complain about the “impossible” behavior of young people in puberty.

In puberty, the solidarity of individuals with the group increases, so other people’s outbursts are silenced. This is where the process of identifying a young person with a group of peers among whom they move, works. They usually turn out funny when they persistently conduct an investigation, and the class reacts collectively and ignores teacher’s threats.

Identification with the group is a natural process in a young person, it is an expression of the young person’s intensified aspiration towards socialization, so it cannot contain anything negative. The fact that someone stands out from the group of average peers, that they act against their interests, is a sign that this individual is not developing into a healthy, socially positive personality. Teachers should not rely on such students nor should they support them against the class collective.

Puberty is a time when children discover themselves, their individuality and their intimate needs. Educators should support the new interests of pubescents, regardless of whether they are in line with the life views of older generation. By approving what the pubescent is interested in and directing their interest to as constructive a track as possible, but without authority and violence, educators can do much to mitigate or completely prevent defiant reactions from youth.