Aside from a sheer increase in size, the most noticeable physical signs of adolescence involve changes in the body contours. Boys tend to become more angular, with more sharply defined facial features. Girls, on the other hand, become more rounded in their contours as breast development begins and the hips become fuller. Equally important, though less visible outwardly, are the primary sex changes involving the development of the internal and external sex organs: notably the penis and testes in boys; the ovaries, inner labia, and clitoris in girls. Secondary sex characteristics that appear during puberty include the growth of underarm and pubic hair in both boys and girls, and the growth of facial hair in boys. Deepening of the voice occurs in both sexes, but is much more pronounced in boys. The “cracking’ of an adolescent boy’s voice is quite normal as the vocal cords thicken.
Menstruation will begin as the adolescent girl matures, but will often be irregular for some time. Spermatogenesis (sperm production) will begin at this time in boys, but is not nearly as dramatic an event as a girl’s first menstrual period, and its actual time of onset is not likely to be noticed. Once these changes have begun, both boys and girls will begin to take more interest in the opposite sex, and may indulge in sexual fantasies involving other adolescents or adults, such as a teacher. Masturbation is not uncommon in girls and is virtually universal in boys, who also will have occasional nocturnal emissions, or wet dreams.” There is nothing at all unusual or unhealthful about any of this, and it generally deserves no comment from the parents. It has been wisely pointed out that the worst effect an
adolescent may experience from masturbation is the feeling of guilt that may be inspired by well-meaning but misinformed or misguided adults.
Sexual activity aside from masturbation will vary widely according to the individual needs and feelings of the adolescent, his family back-ground and religious upbringing, the social climate, and the pressures of his peer group. It is unfortunately true that sexual maturity will generally come before the emotional maturity required to handle it, and it is during this period that the advice and guidance of the parents are most needed. Too-severe restrictions against dating and other sex-related activities may achieve the opposite effect, however. Forbidding an adolescent to engage in dating activities that are essentially harmless may add the lure of “forbidden fruit” to them, and could lead to more sexual experimentation than might otherwise have been contemplated.
Questions of steady dating, petting, premarital intercourse, or teen marriage only can be resolved by open discussion between parents and child, with perhaps the advice of a third party, such as a trusted friend, doctor, or clergyman. If a third party is chosen to advise the teen-ager or mediate between himand his parents, it is essential that this be someone the teen-ager himself knows, likes, and respects. Otherwise the attempt will be useless. Often the teen-ager will be able to relate to such a person in a way that he cannot to his own parents, and the parents should be prepared to accept this possibility without any feelings of incompetency or inadequacy.
Many parents who are alarmed by the prospects of their child’s sexual activity may not actually be basing their feeling on their own child’s actions, but on their ideas as to “what all the kids are doing these days.” These parents should take the time to consider their child individually, and also to examine their own sexual attitudes as adults, and the ones they had as adoles- cents. Some comfort can be taken from the fact that the much-discussed “sexual revolution is still more a reality of the newspapers and magazines than of the high schools and college campuses, and
that “young love” is still mainly just conversation for many boys and girls.