- Written by Dr. Kathy Savoia
The mere mention of the word 'puberty' causes most parents to cringe, either with dread if their children are little, or with sympathy if they have passed that stage. Suddenly, the child who used to say that you were the best mom or dad in the world is shouting that they hate you at the top of their lungs. What has happened to your little boy or girl?
Puberty refers to the period of development when the sexual organs mature. However, this cannot be separated from the psychological and sociological changes which occur during adolescence, namely the mood swings, esteem issues, quest for independence and sexual exploration.Anticipating these changes and discussing them openly with your child may help minimize the conflicts and produce healthy, confident adults.
The age when puberty begins, and the rate at which it happens, varies tremendously based on the individual and family history. Further, girls begin the process and complete puberty two years earlier than boys on average. These differences can cause tremendous anxiety among peers and with the opposite sex. The physical changes in girls usually begin between the ages of 8 and 13, with the development of breast buds, followed by genital hair growth and a rapid growth spurt. The breasts may not be the same size, which may or may not correct by adulthood.
Usually, the first menstrual period occurs roughly two years after breast bud development. It is normal for menstrual periods to be irregular initially. If they are very long, heavy, or associated with excessive cramping, it is best to see your family doctor. If longer than three months lapses without a period, you should also consult your doctor. The onset of the menstrual period may be an unexpected, or frightening event, associated with a great deal of misinformation, particularly regarding fertility.
Smooth this process by open discussion regarding management of bleeding, the importance of abstinence and if necessary, birth control and condom use. This discussion may be embarrassing, but is extremely important to the self esteem and future health of your teenage girl. If you are uncomfortable having this discussion with your child, there are excellent books available or have your family doctor initiate this discussion with her.
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