Ages and stages
9 to 12 years
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.)
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
Don’t panic or make your child feel ashamed. Accidental or intentional, a one-off look at porn is not uncommon. While you may prefer it didn't happen, children are curious, and it can be exciting for them. So, we don't need to make them feel ashamed or bad about doing this. It's OK to feel worried or anxious about this; you may need to give yourself time to calm down and collect you thoughts.
Try to turn it into a ‘teaching moment’.
Tell them porn is meant for (some) adults and it can be a problem because it doesn’t show what real sex and relationships are like. And it gives kids wrong ideas about what sex is too.
If it's violent porn then you need to tell them that violence is wrong.
“When people are older their sexual feelings can get even stronger and sometimes they want to share those feelings with someone else. Sometimes people have sex to show love and affection. Sometimes a man and a woman have sex to make babies. People also have sex because it feels nice and exciting.
Some people call having sex ‘making love’ because it is a way you can share very strong feelings and private moments with another person. It is something for older people to do, not children.
When a man and a woman have sex, it does not always make a baby – that only happens if the man’s sperm and the woman’s egg are in the right place at the right time. If a man and woman want to have sex, but they do not want to make a baby there are things they can do. For example, there are special medications (not just any medicine does it) they can get from the doctor that will stop the sperm and egg joining up.”
For your 9 year old you might like to say:
“People have sex to show love and affection. They have sex because it feels nice and exciting. When two adults (of any gender) feel very loving or attracted towards one another they can really enjoy touching each other’s bodies in many different ways. This can happen between people of the same sex or other sex. Sex can mean different things to different people – it can mean anything people do together to give each other sexual pleasure.”
For your 12 year old, you might like to add:
“Sex is more than just penises and vaginas – it is hugging, kissing and touching genitals too. It can include oral sex and anal sex.”
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
“To make a baby you need a seed (sperm) from a man’s body to join with a tiny egg (ovum) from a woman’s body. This is how the egg and sperm get together – when two adults feel loving towards each other, they can really enjoy touching each other’s bodies. Sometimes they decide to have sex.
In sexual intercourse, a man’s penis gets stiff and a woman allows the man to put his penis inside her vagina. It feels good for both of them. The sperm comes out of the penis and goes up into the vagina. Sometimes (not always) an egg from the woman connects with a sperm, and that might develop into a baby.
The egg that has joined with the sperm travels to a place in the woman’s body called the uterus, where it settles in to grow. It will keep growing for about nine months – this is called pregnancy. When the baby is ready to be born, the muscles in the uterus contract and push the baby out through the vagina, which stretches so that the baby can get through. That is how the baby is born.”
“There are different ways a sperm and an egg can meet:
- a man and a woman can have (penis-in-vagina) sex
- a doctor can help in a process called in vitro fertilisation (IVF) – a sperm and an egg can be taken from the man and the woman and joined in a dish. This fertilised egg is then put into the woman’s uterus to allow the baby to grow.”
“There are different ways people can have babies or become parents:
- sexual intercourse – when a man and a woman have (penis-in-vagina) sex
- adoption – when a baby is born and given to another person or family to raise
- IVF – when a sperm is joined with an egg outside of the body and then put into a uterus to grow
- surrogacy – a woman grows the baby in her uterus for another person or family
- stepchildren – when someone has had children with one person and then starts a relationship with another person, these children become the new person’s stepchildren.”