Ages and stages

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9 to 12 years

Two girls playing netball

What to expect


Puberty can start as early as 8 years of age.

Often it starts at age 10 or 11 years of age and continues past age 18 years. Girls usually start earlier than boys. 

At around age 9 or 10 years, children might notice their friends’ bodies, or their own, changing.

As children turn 10 or 11 years of age they often worry “Am I normal?”

Children start to compare themselves (and their families) with the rest of the world. 

Girls might worry about breast development and periods.

Boys often worry about penis size and wet dreams. Nearly one in two boys experience temporary swelling of the breasts.

Extra hormones can increase a child’s sexual feelings and they may start to masturbate more often. This is all normal. 

These can be embarrassing topics to ask about so do not expect that your children will come to you. Raise the topic, leave books around and tell stories about your own puberty. See below for book suggestions.


Friendships will be the most important concern at this age, and children often enjoy learning skills for how to get on with each other.

Some children may start communicating with friends through social media and will need guidance on how to have respectful (and safe) friendships online. 

One of the strongest feelings for most children will be the desire to fit in. 


Children may feel attracted to others. This might be played out in ‘who loves who’ games.

Some children will be very interested in having girlfriends or boyfriends, and many children will have no interest at all. 

Gay, lesbian and bisexual people often recognise at an early age that they feel ‘different’, but it may take years before they can put a name to it.

If you openly challenge negative comments about being LGBTI it will help your child if they are privately wondering about their own sexuality. 

Self-esteem and body image

The changes that they are experiencing or watching their peers go through are enough to make a child feel self-conscious. Many children will compare their bodies to others that they see in the media and in real life.

Most media images are unrealistic and over-sexualised and can have an impact on a child’s view of themselves and how they think they should look and act. Young people need guidance on how to interpret these media messages.

Exposure to porn

The number of children exposed to porn increases at around age 9.15 

Children's increasing curiosity about sex and bodies may mean that they look things up online. They may come across pornography — accidentally or on purpose.

It is important to explain that porn is meant for (some) adults and it can be a problem as it doesn't show what real sex, bodies and relationships are like.

Encourage them to come to you if they have questions about bodies and sex or offer them some reliable, age appropriate websites or books. (See Online behaviour and safety for tips on how to keep kids safe online.)

Young boys looking at something on a computer

My main concerns are around pornography and how easy and early they could be introduced to this. I can control what’s in my home but with mobile devices and Wi-Fi, as they get older, it’s getting harder to control what they see.

Parent of boys 5, 8 and 10

What you can do to help

  • Providing information about puberty BEFORE it happens is important to help your child understand what is happening. 
  • Puberty is not just about physical changes to the body. It is also a time of huge emotional and social change.

Let your child know that their brain is changing and growing and this can affect their emotions and interactions with friends and family.

Reassure your child (and yourself) that this is a normal part of puberty and that they can talk to you about how they are feeling. 

  • Tell your children about when you went through puberty – it can be reassuring for them to learn when you started noticing changes and it gives them a clue about when it might start for them.

Talk about how you felt, and how you managed periods or wet dreams. 

  • Try to be positive about puberty and celebrate that this is the time that your child is starting to grow from a child to an adult. Being positive and open helps to remove embarrassment and encourages open communication.
  • Give them love and support if their friends start changing.

Acknowledge it can be tricky when people are at different stages – when friends suddenly go boy or girl crazy and no longer want to play on the swings with them at lunchtime.

Having crushes can change friendships, but that is a natural part of growing up. 

  • Talk to your child about the apps and games they are using or try them out yourself (especially if they have online chat options).

Remind them that they can come to you if they come across anything upsetting online. (See Online behaviour and safety for tips on how to keep kids safe online.)

  • Provide opportunities to discuss the differences and similarities that your child notices about themselves and your family.

Encourage respect for diversity and remind your child that respecting differences doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them. 

  • Talk to your child about the unrealistic images on social media and TV.

Teach them to determine what is real and what is filtered, photoshopped or sensationalised. 

  • Repeat topics and previous conversations – little and often is the best way to create open communication.
  • School programs help normalise puberty so that children who have started to develop are not singled out and made to feel self-conscious.

Ask your school what they are doing in this area.

I feel like one of the really important things is to be totally honest because I don’t want her to grow up and think, “Gee my mum led me to believe that babies were born through people’s bellybuttons."

Parent of girl 9