During the three to five years that it takes for a girl to get through puberty, there’s a LOT of stuff going on! Some of the changes can be exciting, but many create anxiety. Girls worry about whether their body is changing in a normal way. They worry if they are first to develop, and they really worry if they are developing later than all of their friends. And when bodies are changing and doing new things that they don’t understand, they worry that something is wrong.
When girls understand what’s normal and expected, they face the changes with greater confidence and less anxiety. After a decade of leading girls’ puberty eduction programs and receiving thousands of questions through our website, we know what girls (and their moms) worry about the most. Below, we present five things that your daughter needs to know about puberty before it happens (so she won’t worry!).
Breast buds are not cancer. The first sign of breast development is a firm knot under the areola, called a breast bud. Often, one side “buds” first, then the other bud shows up weeks or months later. Breast cancer awareness has made such great strides that even little girls know that lumps in the breast are concerning. Many young girls have had family members with breast cancer, and they worry that their own breast bud is also cancer. Girls (and moms) need to understand that the tender knots that happen under the areola between the ages of 7 and 12 are not cancer, but are caused by normal breast development and will disappear in time.
Vaginal discharge is normal. Women don’t typically talk about vaginal discharge during every day conversations, so many girls have never heard of it. When girls start to notice a new wetness or “crust” in their underwear, many have no idea what it is or if it’s normal. There are a few things that they need to know about discharge: it begins soon after breasts begin to develop; it is the way the vagina cleans itself; and it’s something that all girls and women have (even though they don’t usually talk about it!). In early puberty, vaginal discharge can be irritating to the sensitive vulvar skin (until the hair fills in and helps keep the discharge off of the skin), so knowing how to manage it is helpful, too.
Nobody can tell you’re on your period unless you tell them. Do you remember thinking that people could see your bulky pad through your clothes? Did you ever believe that others could tell you were having your period by the way you looked, smelled or acted? Girls today still worry about these things, but they’re simply not true. Young girls want reassurance that others cannot tell when they are having their period. As they mature and get used to menstruation, however, we hope that they will have the confidence to not care if others know they are having a period, because periods are NORMAL!
Emotions come from experiences, not hormones. Adults may need this lesson more than girls, but everyone should understand that emotions are not caused by hormones. Emotions are reactions to things that people experience and feel. Sure, hormonal changes can make emotional reactions bigger, but as girls enter puberty, help them get in the habit of naming their emotions and identifying what triggers them. This is a valuable skill that will help them throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Girls (and boys) are especially empowered when they find healthy ways to identify and manage their emotions, especially the more difficult ones like sadness, anger, jealously or disappointment.
Your body is amazing. With all the body shaming and unrealistic body images that dominate the media and our culture, too many girls grow up believing they are not pretty enough, thin enough or fit enough. As puberty brings on changes in body size and shape, girls need to practice trusting their body and caring for it. They need to know it is amazing because of the things it can do. Help girls value their body for what it helps them accomplish. Help them normalize NORMAL and recognize that the “ideal” created by the media and fashion industry is mostly unattainable and often unhealthy. Finally, be someone who models respect for body diversity and values others for their actions and deeds over appearances.