Adolescence is that ten to twelve year period of social and psychological growth that transforms the girl child (beginning in late elementary or early middle school) into a functionally independent young adult in her early to mid-twenties.
Puberty is the one to three-year process of hormonal and physical change that causes a girl to reach sexual maturity, girls usually entering it about a year earlier than boys.
Among other changes wrought by puberty, there are growth spurts that create bigger bodies to manage. For girls hips broaden, breasts swell, menstruation begins, and they can produce eggs. For both male and female, there is more hair around sex organs, more body odor, and more active skin glands that can create acne.
Some girls also have anxieties about breast development. For example, one breast usually begins to develop before the other. Explain to your daughter that as her breasts develop, it is quite normal for one to be somewhat larger than the other. Breast size is seldom symmetrical. Also, when a girl first notices the lump beneath one nipple, she may worry that this is cancer; reassure her that one breast is beginning to develop before the other, but if questions persist, consult your gynecologist.
If a girl’s breasts start to develop relatively early, she often feels embarrassed and self-conscious. To help your daughter feel more comfortable in a situation like this, she may prefer to wear loose-fitting clothing that disguises her early breast development. Also, be willing to buy her a “training bra” when she requests one or when you feel she could use one. See When Puberty Starts Early.
Many concerns about puberty center on menstruation. Spend time helping your daughter prepare for her first period. There is no reason for a girl to be surprised by her first menstrual cycle, not knowing what is happening or why.
Remember, menstruation may begin sooner than you expect. Certainly, once your daughter’s breast development has started, the two of you should fully discuss this topic. If you do not have adequate knowledge, ask your pediatrician to refer you to some informational sources. Schedule special educational visits to our gynecologists at the time of puberty.
Menstruation Topics to Discuss Your Daughter:
- Discuss the biology of menstruation, describing it as a normal bodily process.
- Mention that her periods may be irregular, particularly in the beginning as her body adapts to rapid physiological changes.
- Let her know that several months before her first period, fluid may be secreted by glands within her vagina. This substance may be clear or white in color, and watery to thick in consistency. Tell her not to worry, and that this is normal.
- Explain that she may experience some cramping before or during her periods. If the cramps become severe, her doctor may have some suggestions for alleviating them, perhaps with physical exercises or medication.
- Discuss hygiene related to menstrual cycles. Be certain your daughter has the supplies she will need for her first period. Since she may be away from home when that first period begins, discuss how to use pads or tampons. She should understand the need to change pads or tampons several times a day, and that tampons should not be worn overnight. Of course, girls can shower or bathe while menstruating.
- Many girls will ask if they can participate in activities such as swimming or physical education classes. Reassure your daughter that she can take part in normal activities while menstruating. Exercise can sometimes even ease the cramps associated with periods.