(The Vancouver Sun, September 10, 2001)
Q: Im not sure if Im allowed to write to you guys because Im not a parent, but oh well. I am a 10-year-old girl and I think Im starting puberty. So far it sucks. Ive got hair EVERYWHERE and my jeans are too tight. Im sooooo embarrassed to talk about it but I guess I should. What do I do?
B.P., Burnaby. B.C.
Teresa and Saleema: Were 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. Youre right, puberty does suck at times, but its also a really healthy sign that youre body is developing and practicing for being an adult. Celebrate it! Besides, youre not alone. Just wait til you go back to school in Septembertherell 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:
- Know that the changes dont stop at hair and tight jeans (which, by the way, is a good thingyour 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 havent 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!
Youll 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 placeone 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 youre 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 its 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 theyre 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.
- Know that everyone in the world has gone (or will go) through puberty at some pointeven Madonnaand that the body changes associated with it are normal, natural, necessary and healthy.
- 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 dont appreciate it and remind them that such comments are a form of sexual harassment.
- 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 dont 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.
- 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 dont have to talk to anyone. Here are some of our favorites:
- "Growing Up, Its a Girl Thing- Straight talk about first bras, first periods and your changing body" by Mavis Jukes
- "The Care and Keeping of YouA body book for girls" by American Girl Library
- "Its Perfectly Normal" by Robie Harris
- "Whats Happening To Me?" by Peter Mayle