This article was updated in April, 2019
As a mom of four teens, I have been through the teen growth spurt a few times. With three teen daughters, I have watched and endured the physical and emotional changes.
Now, I am watching my fourth, and only son, morph before my eyes.
From disengaging responses like “I don’t want to talk about it,” to pushing away the spontaneous embraces and morning wake-up kisses, the growth spurt is not for the weary of heart.
The world turns differently when you’re a teen and you’re growing fast.
As a pediatric nutritionist, I get all kinds of questions about the growth spurt, so I thought I’d answer a few of them here, before I dig into the the typical growth spurt symptoms.
You’ll learn the growth spurt signs and symptoms, when it begins and how long it lasts, and the common signs indicating growth is happening.
How Long Does a Growth Spurt Last for a Teenager?
Puberty can last a while, but the typical growth spurt — or the peak growth phase when all the noticeable growth happens — lasts about three years or so. Of course, everyone is different. Some start early and others start later.
In my experience, there are early bloomers and late bloomers, so it can be hard to predict the individual patterns of growth. For example, many resources will tell you that peak growth in boys stops at age 16, however, I’ve seen boys continue to grow in college. These boys tend to have a late growth spurt.
How Many Inches Do You Grow in a Growth Spurt?
Typically, in that intense phase of the growth spurt, or that three years between ages 12 and 15 years for boys (generally speaking) and between ages 10 and 13 for girls, height gains are about 4 inches per year for boys and 3 to 3.5 inches per year for girls.
Even though the teen growth spurt is an inevitable phase of growth, knowing this doesn’t make the adjustment any easier, on parents or teens.
What You Can Expect During The Teen Growth Spurt
The teenage growth spurt varies by gender, with different timing of onset and rates of growth. Girls tend to experience their growth spurt earlier than boys, nearly two years earlier.
The sexual maturation aspect is a big piece of the growth spurt. Girls become hippy, leggy and buxom, while boys boast more muscles and hair.
How do you know if your teen is in a growth spurt? The signs of a growth spurt make it quite obvious.
13 Signs of the Teen Growth Spurt
Back-to-school shopping and all the new clothes are exciting to add to the wardrobe. What’s decidedly not exciting is when those new clothes don’t last. They don’t fit well anymore.
Those brand new school pants quickly become “high waters.” Ill-fitting—too tight in the bum and too short, evidenced by the white sports socks peeking out between the hem and shoe.
This is a sign your teen is growing taller and filling out.
The feet are one of the first indicators of an uptick in growth. Toes may press through sneaker fabric and threaten to bust through at any moment!
Gone are the days of the annual shoe purchase—you’re probably buying new shoes every four months or so when your teen is in a growth spurt.
By the way, when will someone invent an expanding shoe?
Knees, elbows, shoulders, and shoulder blades look abnormally robust, painfully knobby, and may poke out of shirts and pants. The muscle and fat stores have not caught up yet.
Teens don’t usually “fill out” until they’ve gained some height. Below, I have a height predictor tool that will help you assess where your teen is along the growth spectrum.
Gangly is the word to describe what used to be a compact child who looked proportionate. Now your teen’s bones are growing longer, which shows up in height and longer arms.
If you notice the wrists are popping out of those long sleeves, it’s a pretty good indicator that the bones are growing.
The downy blond or light brown hair dusting the arms and legs of your child becomes darker and coarser during puberty and the teen growth spurt.
Hair sprouts under the armpits, in the groin area, and on the face of boys.
Shoulders and Hips:
The frame (and shape) of your teenager changes. Boys see broadening of their shoulders and girls start seeing a widening of their hips.
What’s that Odor?:
I don’t have to say much more about this, other than the smell of a growing teen is decidedly different. I suggest an air freshener for the bedroom, and periodic window opening to allow fresh air to circulate!
The Emotional Roller-Coaster:
From raised voices, disagreeableness, eye rolling and ignoring your questions and requests, to loud, crazy happiness and sullen, un-engaged quietness, the teen tends to be emotionally labile.
Who knows what’s going on inside? I sure don’t.
I remember wanting to be left alone, feeling annoyed a lot, and wanting to engage my siblings and my parents on my terms– when I wanted to.
I’ve experienced this emotional roller-coaster with my own teens, and each one has their “tendencies.”
A few were eye-rollers, one was a big back-talker, and another, quiet and more distant than usual. I blame these behavioral changes on all kinds of hormones and the developmental stage of the teen…it’s just part of the process.
(However, if changes are dramatic and lasting, as well as disturbing and disruptive, talk with your health care provider, as many more teens today experience high levels of anxiety and depression.)
Due to the physical changes and overall growth, your teen’s appetite will change. You may see what was once a good appetite turn voracious.
The good news is there may be more of an “eat anything” attitude, meaning your teen may be more adventurous and less picky.
On the other hand, this uptick in appetite may show up as a constantly hungry kid, which will keep you on your toes.
The phrase, “hollow leg,” describes the phenomenon of being hungry on the hour, almost every hour. Frequent hunger translates to frequent eating, which is a sign of growth.
If your teen is hangry (hungry and angry), you’ll want to have a strategy for handling the hangry teen so it doesn’t get out of control.
Piles of food on the plate, especially food that is well-liked, is tied to the larger appetite associated with growing.
A side effect of hormonal changes, pimples are signs that the teen growth spurt (and puberty) is marching along.
No more high-pitched screams from little boys. Instead, squeaks and a voice that isn’t quite child-like or manly. Girls have voice changes too, but they are more subtle.
What growth spurt symptoms do you see?
If you’re in the throes of dealing with a growth spurt or pretty sure your teen is going through a growth phase, I’ve got more tips and advice about what you can do here: 7 Ways to Support Your Teen’s Growth Spurt.
Keep scrolling down for my Height Predictor Tool (the most common way to get a sense of how tall your child might be).
Other ways to navigate teen growing challenges:
Lastly, I’ve created a Height Predictor Tool. This will help you estimate your child’s ultimate height, however, genetics, lifestyle and nutrition will play a factor in the end result.
Do you like The Nourished Child? Then join me on facebook.com/TheNourishedChild!
Last, last, last! Here are some other resources you may find helpful:
Eat Like a Champion – the online training course for parents and teen athletes. Get to know and understand the basics of sports nutrition for youth athletes. From carbs, protein and calories to pre- and post-workout snacks — it’s all here!
Nutrients for Kids, Advanced Guide – Wonder if you’re meeting your growing teens requirements for nutrients? This quick and easy guide will help you pinpoint the 7 most important nutrients for your teen plus give you food lists of each nutrient so you can incorporate them into your growing teen’s diet.
The Nourished Child Project – Need a whole new system and strategy for feeding your family? This online program will help you do just that!
From setting up a balanced food system the whole family can live by to making sure you are feeding positively so your children develop a healthy relationship with food, The Nourished Child Project covers that plus healthy habits including exercise, sleep, and more.
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: November 17, 2014
Updated on: July 17, 2019