One afternoon, you hear your young teenager address his sister in a more or less harmonious tone. Nothing unusual so far, but…
… You suddenly notice that your boy's voice is playing ping pong and hitting the highs and lows of a yet unexplored vocal range! And here is the beginning of a new stage in his life: this unstable voice represents one of the manifestations of puberty: moulting.
What exactly is molting?
Moulting is a change in the voice that marks the child's entry into adolescence, for both girls and boys. During this period called puberty, the action of hormones causes transformations such as the appearance of hair, the maturation of the genitals and, probably among the most noticeable (and obvious), the variation in the timbre of the voice. You will have noticed that during childhood, the voices of the boy and the girl do not present great differences, they are rather similar.
Like everything else in the human body, the phonatory mechanism, which is used to produce sounds and voice, is an amazing system. Formed very early in gestation, during the third month, the larynx will undergo great changes in size,orientation and its location in the throat. It will reach its final position after puberty. At birth, the vocal cords measure only a few millimeters and are stretched inside the larynx which is, for its part, half the length and a third of the diameter of that of the adult woman. Remarkable growth will cause the larynx to increase in size by about 60% in boys and 35% in girls. The vocal cords will increase from 4 or 5 millimeters in children to almost 18 millimeters in adult women and 24 mm in men.
The child will also be born with a larynx located rather high compared to the adult. During his first years, the little one will see his apparatus develop, certain components being even absent at birth will be formed over time. For example, the individualized vocal ligament allowing the vocal cord to remain very flexible and probably more resistant to the cries and cries of the baby is non-existent at the start, but appears around the age of four years to complete its formation at puberty. The thyroid cartilage will also close in the boy to create the "Adam's apple".
Puberty can last a few years: for girls, it's usually between nine and sixteen years old that the phenomenon occurs, while for boys, it's more between twelve and eighteen years old. While girls may experience minor changes for up to three years, boys experience vocal changes frommuch more dramatically in a shorter period of time, six months to a year. Under the influence of male hormones that mark the transition to adulthood (testosterone is an example), the vocal folds thicken and cause a drop in the register of the voice. The woman's voice gains in lower harmonics and drops by about a third (two tones) while the man's voice, after a period of instability, will definitely change from the head voice (light child's voice) to the chest voice, deeper, being more or less an octave (six tones) lower!
Psychological change: not to be neglected
Although shedding seems to be a purely anatomical phenomenon, the psychological aspects of such a change should not be overlooked. Faced with the instability of his voice, the involuntary passages between the two registers when he speaks and the modification of the timbre, the adolescent may have difficulty living through this unpleasant passage and accepting his new voice. It can be beneficial to discuss with the young person and expose the changes that are taking place in him and which modify his voice and his body. Knowing that this is a passing step will make it safer. Who says puberty, also says new sexual identity. By mourning his childhood voice, the young person must also turn the page on his childhood years. It is therefore important to guide the adolescent on this journey filled with worries, but also with openness and fulfillment towards adulthood. Then respect thisnew voice and get your young one to explore it.
The singing voice
Should the child sing or not during the moult? Not everyone agrees on this issue. Yves Ormezzano, French phoniatrist and ENT, tells us this: “the answer [to molting] is undoubtedly in the larynx and the vocal technique of the main parties concerned. (…) A child who has a good body image and not just a vocal one will be perfectly aware of what is happening (…). The ideal is to have the best vocal technique before the moult. A teenager who sang regularly as a child, and who pursues a he althy vocal practice, can therefore probably alleviate the difficulties experienced during this period.
A few rules for a smooth transition
To avoid permanently altering the voice, a few rules should be followed. First, do not force your voice in the treble or bass and never try to sing very loudly. Allow the child to move from one register to another if he feels the need. If you sing with him, do not hesitate to do it in your head from time to time, this will give the young person the opportunity to explore his new register. If the teenager has the opportunity to sing with a friend a few years his senior who has already changed, this will give him the opportunity to discuss what he is going through, to understand what is happening to him and to see the result of all these changes.
This transition that is the moult also represents a moment during which the young person mustadapt to your changing body. Exercises and physical activities can help him manage his movements and offer him a favorable development framework. By doing this, he will improve his self-confidence and the awareness of his gestures will lead him to make the link between all the bodily elements that will facilitate vocal emission.
In short, the secret of the development of phonation in children lies largely in the coordination of their breathing and the laryngeal mechanism, not to mention auditory analysis and verbal mimicry. The acquisition of language and speech is also dependent on this complex mastery and the evolution of the voice, from infancy to adulthood, is based on a progressive physiological development, but not without jolts. Remember that it is possible to go through this transitional period, the moult, without too many worries and above all, that there are ways to prepare for it, to attenuate its effects and perhaps even to reduce its duration.
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