Five Steps to Prepare Your Family for Puberty
April 14, 2020
This is definitely one of those topics that Dr. Plastic Picker is a much better pediatrician now than I was at the beginning of my career. It helps that I myself have gone through puberty, completed a clinical year of pediatric endocrinology, and am semi-successfully guiding my own two children through this process.
This can be both a stressful and wonderful time in life. There is a sense of loss for the littleness of your children. I had this profound sense of loss because I worked so much when they were little. I miss the warmth of those young bodies snuggling up to me at night. The promise of that time would often get me through the long overnight calls or urgent care shifts. Our daughter had a profound sense of loss as well. When her body began changing she said that she did not want to grow up. Our son was very nonchalant about the whole thing, which is true to his easy going personality.
But as I tell my children and my patients, puberty is a wonderful thing because it means the body is working! It means that your hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis is functioning as it should and you’ve reached this milestone. If you didn’t go through puberty by a certain time, it would be a medical problem. I would have to start getting blood work, radiographs and maybe MRI your brain. As a pediatrician, I am aware of the dangers of being little as well. You are more susceptible to diseases which is why there are more vaccines when you are young. Little children can’t physically protect themselves as well. So I look at puberty, as a wonderful time that children are gaining bodily strength. They are developing themselves to be adult people. Because in the end the purpose of raising children and protected them while they are young is to get adults, and then they can protect and fend for themselves. And now my own teenagers can get things I need from the upper shelves that I can’t reach! Score!
Here are resources that I would like patients and families to have. Dr. Plastic Picker believes that knowledge is power. Children need to know what is happening to their bodies. These days most schools start “Life Skills” and “Health Education” pretty early. Therefore your discussions with your child will be in conjunction with what the schools are teaching as well.
Five Steps to Prepare Your Child (and Family) for Puberty
- Get a Book and Read A Few Articles: You might be wondering, but I am reading an article? Yes you are reading Dr. Plastic Picker’s short article on puberty. I am an expert but this blog is more about plastic picking and the environment. I want it to be a starting point for you. I recommend (1) Care and Keeping of You 1: The Body Book for Young Girls: This book is the one I recommend for my preteen girls. It has been around for almost a decade, and entirely appropriate to buy and leave for your daughter to read. There are many copies floating around at the library, used or you can buy it new. Used copies run for about $4 online. We gave it to our daughter around 4th grade and she has read it cover to cover multiple times. (2) Boys Body Book: I found this at Target about the time I was thinking of getting something for our son. He liked the book and it also addresses drugs and other adolescent issues that need to be addressed (3) Physical Development in Girls: What to Expect During Puberty: Short and good article written by two pediatricians for HealthyChildren.Org which is the AAP Generated website for parents. It’s probably a good starting resource for parents to read. Since Dr. Plastic Picker is Part of the AAP so all the resources on this website I recommend https://healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/puberty/Pages/Physical-Development-Girls-What-to-Expect.aspx
- Get Puberty Supplies Ready (Boy): This will be a first for many parents. Even as a pediatrician, it was a first for me. They are going to need things that they did not need before. I distinctly remember my first born son when he was going through adrenarche (this is often the first part of puberty when they develop some hair and body odor). I sniffed him, and the odor was profound. I rushed and called Mr. Plastic Picker and said, you need to get him deodorant STAT! Mr. Plastic Picker sat down with our son that evening and reminded him the importance of bathing semi-regularly and deodorant. Watching them bond through this process has been endearing. Mr. Plastic Picker monitored his pubertal progression and went over shaving, and body hygiene. A lot is covered in those books as well. For acne, I recommend reading my article on acne https://drplasticpicker.com/teenage-acne-how-to-wash-your-face-apply-your-acne-medicine-and-change-your-diet/. For boys, it is this constant monitoring of when they need to go up in shoe size, boxer/brief size, and gently reminding them that many of the emotions they are going through are due to their body changes. So get ready to spend some money at Target! I remember one day when our son came home from school and they had a more advanced discussion about sexual health at school, and he said “they ruined my life.” LOL I loved that the schools are now discussing the importance of what “consent” means. We have taught my son this, and I am proud of the young man he is growing up to be.
- Get Puberty Supplies (Girls): For our daughter, our Girl Scout Troop actually attended a long puberty seminar offered by an RN who is also a scout leader. It was expensive $40 per girl, but for our troop it was worth it. Most the the mothers in our troop have only one daughter, and this puberty discussion is a once in a lifetime responsibility for them that they wanted to partially outsource. The nurse led the multi-troop session, and explained puberty in a funny and approachable way. The moms sat in the back, and the girls were in pajamas with pillows and stuffed animals and got to ask all the questions they wanted in a safe environment. We had an overpriced organic meal with little finger sandwhiches and salad. I was very skeptical but it was a great bonding experience for our daughter and her friends, and it was empowering to talk about puberty and freely eat brownies afterwards (the were brownies at that time). If you are interested, I would check with your local Girl Scout Council. The nice thing about this seminar, is that the speaker gave the girls a cute little emergency period pack. After that night, I purchased for our daughter fun and bright assortment of pads and roomy underwear. One of my friends sent her a package of fun hello kitty pads. I also ventured into Macy’s and bought comfortable bralettes for her. I hav never spent more than $15 on a bra, but for our daughter I distinctly remember standing at the Macy’s check out with several Calvin Klein bralettes and thinking “Wow, I’ve become one of those moms.” The total was a bit ridiculous but we drive our cars for at least 10 years, and that is how I justified the purchase. For girls as well, it is important to monitor things from afar. I am not intrusive, but I will ask my daughters about her menstrual cycles. I ask her about symptoms. I use the correct medical tersm for everything. I made sure that we move up in sizes for underwear and clothes when we need to. These days I am in Macy’s and Target more than I ever thought I would be.
- Parents Need to Be Around More: I worry for all our children, mine included, about the specific dangers that teenagers face. One of my mentors always told me, “be confident in the values of your family.” The physical changes in puberty will happen no matter what, but the most important parts of this stage – is continuing to steer your children into the path of health and moral strength. Remember that this is the most important part of preparing your family for puberty. I try to emphasize good nutrition, the health of ther growing bodies, and continue to teach them lessons through this time. A good friend once said, the best way to talk to a teen is sitting side by side. So many of our conversations are during pickup and drop off. This is the time to eat together as a family. Walk along the beach together. Garden together. Cook together. I always volunteer to drive our kids and friends to events, because I get to hear their chatter and keep tabs on what is happening.
- Eating Disorder and Drug Abuse Prevention: Honestly as a pediatrician, this is what I worry about the most. I once had an attending physician in residency, and his daughter had just been accepted to Columbia. I was a young resident with an infant son. I asked him how did he felt? So many of us who went to Ivy League schools have this anxiety of whether our own children will be able to repeat our academic journey. He looked at me and said “I’m just happy she didn’t get pregnant or use drugs!” I didn’t fully understand when I was a young pediatrician. Now in my mid-40s having seen children in my practice grow from infancy to adulthood, I understand. We have been fortunate as the kids are doing academically well. But honestly this is not my priority. I want for my children to be happy and have good physical and mental health. How does one prevent eating disorders and drug abuse? Just be around and be vigilant that this danger is out there. That is my only advice. I am careful at the comments I make about my own body, and how I talk about health. I think if we accept that this is one of our major responsibilities during this stage, it can help our parenting. When our son is studying late at night for a physics test, I will check in on him and remind him to sleep. I support him, and remind him that a test is just a test. I tell him stories here and there of things that I have seen, but more celebrate the good lifestyle choices that he and his friends are making. When our daughter needs to move up on clothe sizes, I talk about how wonderful it is that she is growing and how strong her bones are. It is very important to have clothes that allow your body to move freely. And I keep track of all their friends and gently steer them away from those that I am worried about. I am not willing to sacrifice my children’s physical and moral health for any other family or any other child. That is one of the few ways I am very selfish.
That was a much more philosophical article on puberty than I was originally intending to write! Wow. But there you have it! Dr. Plastic Picker’s advice on guiding your family (and your children) through puberty. Remember this blog is mostly for environmental and entertainment purposes, and I always ask our readers to use common sense and check in with your own pediatrician! If I’m your pediatrician, use the patient portal or I’ll see you in the office! While we are still in COVID-19 quaratine, I’ll see me most likely virtually!