Puberty: This Too Will Pass

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(The Vancouver Sun, September 10, 2001)

Q: I’m not sure if I’m allowed to write to you guys because I’m not a parent, but oh well. I am a 10-year-old girl and I think I’m starting puberty. So far it sucks. I’ve got hair EVERYWHERE and my jeans are too tight. I’m sooooo embarrassed to talk about it but I guess I should. What do I do?

B.P., Burnaby. B.C.

Teresa and Saleema: We’re so happy to hear from you! We always welcome letters from young people. Now, about puberty, been there, done that! We definitely feel your pain. You’re right, puberty does suck at times, but it’s also a really healthy sign that you’re body is developing and practicing for being an adult. Celebrate it! Besides, you’re not alone. Just wait ‘til you go back to school in September—there’ll be breasts and body hair everywhere! Boys will have squeaky voices and the halls will be buzzing with stories of first periods at summer camp. Before you panic too much, here are some tips that may help you cope:

  1. Know that the changes don’t stop at hair and tight jeans (which, by the way, is a good thing—your hips are the first to develop!). In fact, doctors tell us that we need to gain about 25 lbs. during puberty just to be healthy. This extra weight acts like a "powerpack" so your body has the energy it needs for you to do the activities you enjoy. Also expect pimples and voice changes. Your breasts will soon start to grow if they haven’t already. And no, they are not going to be perfect like you see in those magazines. One will be bigger and a slightly different shape than the other, and you may feel a few bumps called "nodes" that are just a healthy sign that your breasts are developing. Remember, SIZE DOES NOT MATTER!

    You’ll probably start to sweat more than you used to, which is clean and healthy, just remember to wash those bacteria off everyday in the bath or the shower. And how about those mood swings? It may feel like your emotions are all over the place—one minute life is great, the next minute you drop your pen and burst into tears, and that night you actually consider killing your brother at dinner. Sound familiar? Although these feelings are part of the process, there are appropriate ways of coping, and visualizing the demise of your brother is not one of them! When you’re really frustrated or upset, try going for a long walk, writing in your journal or listening to some music by yourself.

    And last but not least, PERIODS. We could write a whole separate column on this body change, but the most important thing for you to know is that getting a period (or menstruating) is a really, really good thing because it’s a sign that your body is healthy and that you may be able to have a baby one day if you want to. The drips that come from the uterus (where the baby grows) out of the vagina during a period look like blood, but they’re actually mostly water. Talk to an adult you trust about the use of pads and tampons (among other options) to catch these drips as they come out.

  2. Know that everyone in the world has gone (or will go) through puberty at some point—even Madonna—and that the body changes associated with it are normal, natural, necessary and healthy.
  3. Demand respect from your peers and adults. If anyone makes fun of or embarrasses you about your body (i.e. if someone says, "Look! Shelley has little boobies now!") make it clear that you don’t appreciate it and remind them that such comments are a form of sexual harassment.
  4. Ask questions until you are blue in the face! There are so many people who want to support you through this time and provide you with the information you need. So don’t be embarrassed to seek them out. Talk to one of your parents, or if you feel more comfortable, to your teachers, counselors, minister, or visit a youth health clinic.
  5. Grab some great books from the library! They are easy to understand, provide tons of information and have a very low embarrassment factor because you don’t have to talk to anyone. Here are some of our favorites:
    • "Growing Up, It’s a Girl Thing- Straight talk about first bras, first periods and your changing body" by Mavis Jukes
    • "The Care and Keeping of You—A body book for girls" by American Girl Library
    • "It’s Perfectly Normal" by Robie Harris
    • "What’s Happening To Me?" by Peter Mayle