### Early Puberty Signs: Is Your 9-Year-Old’s Moodiness a Symptom?

Puberty typically commences earlier than commonly perceived, a well-known yet somewhat unsettling fact. Research data from 2010-2012 indicated that girls manifest initial signs of puberty around 8 to 9 years old, while boys typically exhibit these signs between the ages of 9 and 10. This suggests that over the past decade, we have collectively overlooked this shift towards an earlier onset of puberty.

It can be challenging to discern the very first physical changes in boys, such as the gradual growth of the penis and testes, especially when they tend to cover up and seek privacy, as is common at this age. On the other hand, the development of breast buds in girls is often more conspicuous, although it can be concealed with strategically chosen clothing. Interestingly, the most prominent indicator of the transition into puberty is not physical but rather emotional: moodiness. Enter the eye rolls and door slams.

The intensity of mood swings can vary significantly depending on a child’s personality, temperament, biological makeup, and environment. Girls, more often than not, express their emotions openly, whether through laughter, tears, or venting, at a higher frequency and volume compared to their younger selves. In contrast, boys, though not exclusively, may become quieter and occasionally angrier as they navigate puberty. It is crucial to recognize that silence, along with gestures like eye rolls, shoulder shrugs, and dramatic outbursts, falls within the spectrum of mood swings.

Parents frequently inquire: Why does my 10-year-old behave like a 14-year-old? The answer lies in the hormonal changes occurring at an earlier age than expected. If adults are taken aback by this shift, one can only imagine the internal turmoil experienced by the children themselves. When educating children about their evolving bodies, it is common to find that 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds have all experienced exaggerated reactions to certain situations, which they often do not enjoy. Mood swings during this phase can evoke feelings of confusion, discomfort, and even shame simultaneously. Despite the potential stress associated with this period, it is our responsibility to support the child in front of us by adjusting our expectations regarding the timing of adolescent behavior onset.

Effective communication of scientific knowledge often involves relatable guidance. This explains why people appreciate knowing that even experts studying puberty experience challenges like glares and groans. The key difference lies in the awareness that both children and adults are navigating the hormone roller coaster without a safety harness. Here are a few recommendations:

Acknowledging Hormonal Influence: It is essential to understand that children’s moods are heavily influenced by hormones during this period of sexual maturation. Testosterone and estrogen, accompanied by various other hormones, play a significant role in shaping emotional responses. While these hormones fluctuate rapidly during tween and teen years, eventually, the brain adapts to their presence, and individuals learn to regulate their reactions. However, at the onset of puberty, adolescents may feel overwhelmed by their emotional responses, whether sassy, silent, or a combination of both.

Distinguishing Between Normal Mood Swings and Mental Health Concerns: Differentiating between typical puberty-related mood swings and signs of depression or other mental health issues can be challenging. Persistent mood disturbances, heightened intensity, and accompanying changes in appetite, sleep patterns, or energy levels may indicate a more serious underlying issue. When in doubt, seeking assistance from a mental health professional is advisable.

Responding Calmly: While it may be tempting to react impulsively to a teenager’s outbursts, responding with composure and empathy is more effective. Taking a moment to pause, breathe deeply, and regroup can not only help in managing one’s emotions but also demonstrate to the child the importance of self-regulation and empathy.

Embracing Imperfection: As parents, it is inevitable to make mistakes when dealing with adolescents undergoing puberty. However, acknowledging these mistakes, apologizing for overreactions, and offering a fresh start exemplify resilience and provide a valuable lesson in navigating challenging situations. By modeling accountability and the willingness to rectify errors, adults can strengthen their bond with teenagers and foster a sense of trust and understanding.

In essence, establishing a genuine connection with adolescents involves not only empowering them to navigate discomfort but also showcasing the capacity for adults to acknowledge their fallibility and make amends. This authenticity underscores the essence of true connection, which thrives not in perfection but in the shared humanity of embracing imperfections.

Cara Natterson, a pediatrician, and author, along with Vanessa Kroll Bennett, an author and puberty educator, co-authored “This Is So Awkward: Modern Puberty Explained” (Rodale Books, October 2023). They host the Puberty Podcast and operate Order of Magnitude, a company dedicated to promoting positive puberty experiences. Both Cara and Vanessa can be found on Instagram and TikTok @spillingthepubertea. Their extensive experience as parents to six teenagers further solidifies their expertise in this field.