Puberty: A Journey, Not a Destination

 

I recently received a text from a concerned mother that said this.

“Hey Kristin! Maybe you can help with this.  I hope you can. My daughter is only 8-years-old and is already starting to hit puberty.  She’s getting B.O., has some pubic hair, and is really moody.  I’m nervous at the prospect that she may be developing early and I’m not sure what is normal.  Do you have recommendations of where to turn for help for assistance and answers?”

I love getting questions like this because we all have them.  Is this normal? Am I normal?  Are we normal?  Most of us are wondering if some part of our sexual health is normal and many of us don’t know where to turn to get information to find out.

Doing what I do when it comes to matters of sexual health, I spent the next few days going down a rabbit hole looking at various studies, information from the American Pediatric Association, and other reliable sources to see what I could offer this mother.

Here is what I found:

  • The range of “normal” for puberty is between the ages of 8-14.  
  • Markers of puberty prior to age 8 could potentially be something called, “precocious puberty.”
  • Markers of puberty are developing breast buds, pubic hair, body odor, acne, moodiness, changes in voice, menarche (getting your period)
  • What is causing it looks to be largely unknown but discussiond and studies seemed to point to environmental stress, weight, race, chemicals/hormones in food, and other factors.

But here is what I also found:

While physically her daughter is “normal”, girls who develop earlier are at greater risk for lower self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders because they feel different from their peers and THEY feel like they aren’t normal.  Remember wanting to be unique but exactly the same as your friends?!? I know I did.

Let me put it in more skimmable terms so it’s not missed.

Girls who develop earlier are at greater risk for:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders

So what can we do from a proactive empowered place and not a fear-based place?

I loved what I found in this New York Times article,”Puberty Before Age 10: A New Normal?” that said this:

Doctors urge parents to focus on their daughters’ emotional and physical health rather than on stopping or slowing development. In this way, the concept of a new normal is not just a brushoff but an encouragement to support a girl who is vulnerable.

“I know they can’t change the fact that their daughter started developing early, but they can change what happens downstream,” Louise Greenspan, the pediatric endocrinologist at Kaiser Permanente, told me. Parents can keep their daughters active and at healthy body weights. They can treat them the age they are, not the age they look. They can defend against a culture that sells push-up bikinis for 7-year-olds and otherwise sexualizes young girls. “Most of the psychological issues associated with early puberty are related to risk-taking behaviors,” Greenspan continued, and parents can mitigate those.

Normalizing these changes is a major support and step for a child,  (and let’s be honest, a parent), however, it’s not the only steps we can take. We can also take proactive steps to guide our children through their unique journey and experience with puberty.  We can initiate conversations as well as see and take advantage of the natural teaching opportunities that regularly arise.

Rather than waiting for bigger moments such as a daughter getting a period, cracks in the voice, or waiting until a specific age for a one-and-done “talk”, we have the opportunity to serve as the guides and mentors we always wished we had growing up every step of the way.

I know as a parent these changes can feel really overwhelming especially when many of us made our own journeys through puberty largely alone without guidance and models to draw from.   However, being proactive prior, during and through our kid’s emergence of puberty can be one of the best gifts we can give to our children.

If we think about puberty as a becoming instead of an arriving, we will find there are many steps we can take along the way to make this a smoother part of life.

If you missed my prior blog post on my favorite books in talking to your kids about sex(ual health), you can find it here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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