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!