Thursday, 11 February 2010

The physical and emotional changes of puberty.

I have just about recovered from the physical and emotional changes of puberty. It was a lot of change, self consciousness, worry about whether I was 'normal' or not and hormones to get through in a relatively short amount of time and I didn't really enjoy it. I only realised what it actually was retrospectively and was happy for it to have passed. Nobody, except for my big sister and Deborah Wiles, told me what to expect and their rendition wasn't overly enlightening and certainly more sensationalised than comforting!

Part of my job is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about body matters with their children. Thankfully people tend to be a little less prudish referring to puberty than the whole baby making thing but with statistics that say:

*one third of UK parents do not talk to their daughters about periods
*10% of girls in the UK start their periods without having a clue what's happening to them and
*Girls can start their periods as young as eight now (although I heard of a seven year old recently)

clearly there is still room for improvement.

In my training session I ask teachers/parents/governors when they think the changes of puberty should first be broached in the school curriculum and/or at home. The vast majority say it's appropriate with primary school aged children (phew!) but there is always a spread of ages suggested for when it should first appear in lessons

All government guidance talks about preparing children for puberty BEFORE the onset. Of course this makes sense, how can you prepare for something during it? It's also better to start these conversations before children are in the throes of puberty because that's when the height of self-consciousness is being experienced. It can then, hopefully with increasing ease and comfort, be discussed again in later year groups as different children will tune in differently at different ages.

Sometimes parents cite concerns about the possibility of their own child being upset or disturbed by information about puberty and that their particular child is a long way from it - so surely there is no need to bother them with such information. I say to those parents, firstly that this information should not distress their child (it is mostly taught more effectively these days) and it is just information about something that is inevitable and secondly, part of teaching about puberty needs to focus on how inappropriate it is to tease peers experiencing puberty about their physical changes - i.e. so even if their child isn't developing yet, they need to be taught to be sensitive to their peers.

Somebody recently told me a story about boys pinching girls in the gusset (I love that word) area to see if they were wearing a towel. That's exactly the kind of thing that cannot be prevented head on if people refuse to go anywhere near this topic! Prudishness prevent things from being addressed and often appears to block common sense.

And what about the boys? Historically, s*x education was seen as a girls' subject as their changes appeared to need more practical arrangements and when they grew up, it was expected that the responsibility in s*xual relationships (contraception, consent..etc) was going to fall the the female only. Well, thankfully, boys do get a look in nowadays and their changes are focused on as much as the girls. Many single mum's express their gratitude to schools for covering the changes of puberty with their sons - having not experienced puberty as a boy themselves. It is also an indication that s*x ed has improved as there appear to be less boys thinking they are going to have periods.

And now to a story a woman shared one training session about her periods starting.

She started her first period one morning. Her mother threw a pack of sanitary towels at her and said they'd have a chat when she got home from school. The (then) girl skipped to school chuffed with her new found womanhood and looking forward to a cosy and connecting chat with her mother. She rushed home after school and went straight to her mum, full of anticipation. Her mum looked at her slightly aggressively and said,
"keep away from men and dogs."

P.S. The Samaritans was founded by the friend of a family that lost its daughter to suicide, after she had started her periods, did not know what was happening and believed she must have committed evil - or something like that.
P.P.S. Currently it's up to schools to decide when to teach pupils about the physical and emotional changes of puberty but from 2011 it will be statutory from Years 3 and/or 4. I anticipate that most schools will go with Year 4 only. What people forget is that teaching staff can be just as prudish as anyone!


  1. I am very pleased to see that this aspect of education is being handled better and better. It would have been a serious dereliction of duty if things had continued as they were.

    Periods at 7?? That's scary. There must be a reason for this decreasing age at puberty, I wonder what it is?

    I hope that we will also see more education on budgeting/financial/household management too. My wife was astonished to have to explain to younger staff members who asked the company for a loan, about how you add up all your regular expenses, work out a monthly expense budget, subtract it from what you take home, and that's what you've got to spend.....

  2. the more things change the more they stay the same. when i was at school, oh yes, they had schools in them days, the nuns (!) referred to all of us young pubescent trollops as 'foolish virgins'. that was the nearest they came to discussing sex. if you follow. no wonder the females in this all girls school were throwing themselves at the boys from the nearby boys' school, like dogs on broth.
    education my dear.
    you go out there and tell 'em all.
    somebody's got to warn 'em.

  3. My son is all geared up and ready! But I still don't have a satisfactory answer to the question: Should fathers teach their sons to mast*rbate?!! Most people will say in response to this that they will learn naturally but my husband didn't and it led to rather hilarious and very frustrating scenarios as a boy!!! We brought up this topic at a dinner party with a couple who then brought up the topic at a friend's house in Scotland where they were staying which ended up with them having to leave the house in disgrace with nowhere to go (they live in Oxfordshire!)and the Scottish couple mentioning the whole fiasco in a round robin at Christmas saying how shocked they were by how disgusting and sick some people are! I am rather proud of that ripple effect.

    There, shocked you all no doubt. But that's just the kind of mood I'm in today.

  4. Can I put in a request for posts about Potter family life? I loved the one 'in the off-licence',

  5. Very interesting topic. I am not prudish, so talking to my almost 9 year old daughter has already begun.

    I approach it with a sense of beauty ~ this is not "curse" or an "issue" that we have to "deal with".

    She seems to find a connection to me, and to all women, and that in my opinion is beautiful.

  6. Codgi - they are citing the diet as a reason for puberty starting younger...we eat more now than we ever did. Economic and finacial wellbeing is in the new curriculum. I baulked at the idea at first but people can actually make a right mess of their lives because of finances. However, it won't stop young people being burdened with a huge debt for their university education or huge mortgage of a tiny flat will it? I once herad a very inspirational chap talking about this part of the curriculum and he highlighted how 'abstract' money has become because so few people pay with cash any more. Less able people can struggle to understand this and the old lessons using plastic coins have become a little irrelevant for teaching about money.

    Clipster - sadly that antiquated approach is still to be found. I will keep at it but it's one step forward seven back. Little me tackling an culturally ingrained attitude....

    Claire - I know you're setting out to shock here- you naughty thing - as I have given you the answer to this query before. I think it's amazing that you ended up in a round robin letter!!!!!

    FF - I will carry on varying my types of posts as I would get bored if I just wrote anecdotes. I thrive on variation! :-)

    EG - yes my kids know everything too - and don't bat an eyelid. My American friend Dayna's family has a celebration when she and her two sisters started their periods. It's sad that there's so much embarassment - shame even sometimes.

  7. Something that I find quite interesting - we have an adopted daughter from China and these adopted girls very often go through puberty extremely early (7 for example). It is thought that this is because 1. They live with a man who is not biologically related to them, which sets off puberty early and 2. When they are suddenly switched from one language and culture to another, they go into a hypervigilant state which fires up their endocrine system, speeding everything up.

  8. I can't understand why any boy would ever need w*nking lessons... the way I remember it, given that I went to a boys only school, was the faster developers (i.e. us big lads), would terrify the slower developers by vaguely going on about it on bus trips and in changing rooms, boys are pretty terrible people at that age.

    As physical mechanisms go, there's not much to it really. I hit puberty at ten, so I was an early starter, what I remember most (apart from the sudden genital fascination and the interest in those slightly ragged looking porno mags you always found in hedges in the 1970s and 80s before the internet took over) was how much less well I suddenly got on with my mum.

    Our girls have all had a reasonably easy journey, Mrs Typejunky is great at that kind of stuff, and we're quite open about things really. I can't say the thought of filling in with further details about willys and stuff, for our 9 year old, does anything other than make me smile in a schoolboy-like way, I think it might and should be quite good fun.

    Claire more info on hilarious and frustrating scenarios please.

  9. Nick, I'm not sure my husband would appreciate it if I told you (and everyone else here) about his hilarious and frustrating boyhood scenarios!! Even though his best man told everyone at our wedding! I'll just tell you this - it involves a small "Welcome to Wales jug" with a picture of a woman in tradtional Welsh costume on it and stairs!! Ask Moll next time you see her!

  10. Why don't I just write it as an anonymous post?
    Ha ha.
    Panicking Claire?
    I wouldn't but it's an endearing little tale - if you're not James - in which case it makes you a little snappy.

  11. I just LOLled. I have a similar tale about a guy at school, his mum's fluffy mules and some talcum powder... another time.


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