This is a very important, very exciting time in your life as you go through so many changes on your way to becoming an adult. Along with the transformation your body is undergoing, many other things in your life are changing, too. For example, your relationships with your parents and your friends may be different now than when you were younger, and people may treat you differently. Also, the way you look at things is probably not the same as it used to be. Of course, you have lots of questions. We at the American Medical Association have created this book to give you the answers to many of those questions—information that can help you grow up healthy and happy. You can also turn to your parents, your doctor, and other trusted adults whenever you need more information, guidance, or help. With more facts, you can make even better decisions to keep yourself safe.

In this book, you will learn how to deal with common concerns girls have, such as acne, menstrual cramps, and weight issues. You will learn why it’s so important, even at your age, to eat a healthy diet and to be physically active. This book also discusses many of the issues that may soon be facing you or your friends, including how to resist pressure from other kids to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, use drugs, or start becoming sexually active.

The handy glossary at the back of the book explains some of the medical terms used in the book. Also at the end of the book, you’ll find a list of helpful Web sites to go to for more information.

We at the AMA wish you good health on your journey into adulthood!

American Medical Association

Michael D. Maves, MD, MBA Executive Vice President, Chief Executive Officer
Robert A. Musacchio, PhD Senior Vice President, Publishing and Business Services
Anthony J. Frankos Vice President, Business Products
Mary Lou White Executive Director, Editorial and Operations
Amy B. Middleman, MD, MSEd, MPH Medical Editor
Donna Kotulak Managing Editor
Mary Ann Albanese Art Editor
Arthur Elster, MD Director, Division of Medicine and Public Health, AMA
Missy Fleming, PhD Program Director, Child and Adolescent Health, AMA
Mary R. Casek, MAT Educational Consultant


Chapter One

Welcome to Puberty

Welcome to the world of the teenage girl! If you’re reading this book, it’s probably because you’re about to be a teenager and you’re curious about the changes you are starting to experience. Becoming a teenager is quite a big deal. Your body and mind are going through lots of changes—some can feel strange, some exciting, and some maybe even a little scary.

This book can help you find answers to the many questions that you and other girls your age have about puberty. Of course, it’s also a good idea to talk to your parents, other family members, a doctor or nurse, or other trusted adults about any concerns you have.

Try not to be afraid or embarrassed to ask questions. Remember, all adults were once as young as you!

What is puberty?

Puberty is the time during which your body grows from that of a child to that of an adult. Your body changes in many ways. Puberty is also the time when you will start having menstrual periods.

Changes in your body:


While all of these physical changes are taking place, your emotions and feelings might change too. It’s not always easy to go through so many changes so quickly. Puberty can be exciting, confusing, scary, or no big deal—every girl has her own reaction, and each reaction is perfectly normal.

Does this ever happen to you?

How long does puberty last?

Puberty generally starts some time between the ages of 8 and 11. For some girls, it can last just a few years. For other girls, it can last 5 years or longer. Every girl is unique and will go through puberty in her own way.

How should I feel about puberty?

There is no one way you “should” feel at this time in your life. Different girls have different feelings about starting puberty. Your feelings may even change from day to day. How do you feel?

All of these ways of feeling are normal and okay.


Why do my feelings change so much during puberty?

During puberty, most girls notice that the way they feel and think about things changes. You may become more self-conscious and concerned about how others see you. You may find that your friendships seem to be getting more complicated. You may notice that you and your parents don’t agree on things as much as you used to.


It may feel like your mood can change in an instant and you don’t always know why. One minute you feel like a child who wants to play, and the next minute you feel all grown-up, wanting more freedom and independence.

Does this ever happen to you?

Puberty is also a time when you may begin to think about the world and your place in it. You may start to read newspapers or watch the news, and you may become concerned about some issues in the world that worry you. You may notice something in your school or your neighborhood that troubles you. Can you make a difference, and, if so, how? These are all common thoughts and feelings that are part of being a teenager.

Some Ways You Can Make a Difference:

The changes you are experiencing occur for a variety of reasons. One reason may be that your hormones are changing; hormones are chemicals that control many activities in your body, including growth. These changes in your hormones can also affect your mood. In addition, your way of thinking is changing as your brain further develops.

And your life is probably changing too. You may have switched schools to start middle school or junior high. You may have more pressures and responsibilities now that you are getting older. You may have made new friends, started to think about romantic relationships, or gone through a family change like divorce. These are major transformations that are likely to affect the way you feel.


If you have special needs or a long-term illness, whether or not others know about it, going through the many changes of puberty can sometimes be challenging. You’re certainly not alone. Whenever you find things especially difficult, you’ll feel better if you express your feelings to your parents, the doctor, the school nurse, a counselor, or another adult you trust. It can also be helpful to talk to other girls your age—you’ll quickly realize that you all have a lot in common!

Why do I look at my body differently?

Girls your age often find that they start looking in the mirror more often, spend more time in the shower, and think about their appearance more than they did before.

Ideally, you like what you see when you look in the mirror. But the reality is that most girls find something, any little thing, to criticize about their appearance. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to other girls. You may think, “I wish I weren’t so tall—the short girls get all the attention” or “I’m the only girl in my gym class who doesn’t wear a bra yet.”

When you don’t feel you look your best, remember that everyone feels this way from time to time. It’s a normal feeling because, after all, no one is perfect!

When you find yourself making these comparisons, try to remember that nobody has a perfect body, or face, or hair. Not even the fashion models you see in magazines or the stars you see in the movies. Although it’s normal to find things about yourself that you want to change, it can also be harmful to be too critical of yourself. It can sometimes make you feel sad or lonely, and it can even affect your friendships.


So, try to remember the things you like about yourself and remind yourself of those things when you start to feel bad. “I may be shorter than most girls, but I’m really funny and easy to talk to.” If you’re having a hard time finding those good qualities in yourself, ask someone you trust—such as a good friend or an adult you look up to. You’ll be surprised to hear how many wonderful things people who know you see in you.

Did you know that the photographs of women you see in most ads have been touched up quite a bit to make the women look thinner and taller and their skin smoother and unblemished? These women would look very different if you saw them in person. They would look more like everyone else—not perfect.

Stay focused on your strengths—and you’ll feel good about
“When my older sister got her period, I thought she was really grown-up. Now that I have periods, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal—just normal.” Age 12
“It seems like all of my friends are going through puberty before me. I really want to catch up.” Age 12
“When I first grew breasts, I thought they were too big and I used to wear jackets all the time to hide them. Some of my friends asked me if I stuffed my bra. I’m starting to get better about my breasts now because other girls in my class are getting bigger too.” Age 13
“My breasts seem smaller than everyone else’s and some kids tease me about it. Sometimes it’s hard to keep from crying.” Age 12
“All of a sudden, my skin is breaking out. I never had a problem before. My mom is going to take me to the skin doctor to see what I can do for it.” Age 11
“I hate being the tallest girl in my class. I’m even taller than the boys!” Age 10

Chapter Two

Eating, Exercise, and a Healthy Weight

It’s especially important to be a healthy eater at this time in your life. Your brain and body need nutritious food at regular times so you can learn, grow, and be active. It’s also important that you make exercise a priority in your life. The more fit you are, the better you’ll look and feel. Read on to learn more about what types of food you should be eating as well as how much physical activity you should be getting.

It’s not important how skinny you can be. What’s important is how healthy you can be.

Why do I need to pay attention to what I eat?

If you eat too many of the wrong kinds of foods, your body isn’t getting the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs to function well and keep you healthy. Foods like french fries, chips, sugary soft drinks, and fruit drinks have lots of calories but few of the nutrients your body needs. Yes, fruit drinks are not so good for you because they contain a lot of sugar; it’s much healthier to eat an orange or an apple or other fruit than to drink fruit juice.


How do I make sure I’m a healthy eater?