What Every Parent Needs to Know About Puberty in GirlsSep 25, 2013
Dr. Kirtly Jones of the University of Utah talks about what you need to know to help your daughter navigate puberty.
Dr. Jones: About 50 years ago, my parents must have known what was in the wind when I burst out in tears every time my father said the word puberty. I'd been sneaking my Dad's razor to shave my legs, already had my training bra. And what was I in training for? I had a book on how babies were made, but I didn't really know what was going to happen then, and when.
This is Dr. Kirtly Jones from the Department Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Healthcare and today on The Scope we will start a little conversation on puberty.
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Dr. Jones: Today we'll talk about girls and puberty. When does it usually happen, what are the first signs, what are the milestones, what should girls and their moms know, and why does puberty make our previously perfect children so weird?
Okay. One for science; although some folks think that puberty for girls begins with the first period, a young woman already had two or three years of changes in her body. Probably the first, well known to mothers and not known to doctors, is that a girl starts to smell a little differently. This may start from seven to eight years old, and is the sign that the adrenal gland is maturing. The adrenal gland starts to make small amounts of male hormones that could make boys and girls smell a little different. It isn't in the textbooks, but a mom's nose knows.
Two, breast buds; as early as seven or eight or as late as 13, girls develop tender little nickel-sized bumps under their nipples. Sometimes one side before the other; this is the beginning of breast development and it's a sign that the ovaries have started to wake up and make small amounts of estrogen. It's about two years before the first period.
Three, first periods are weird. They are not usually regular; they can be light, heavy, and unpredictable. They may have cramps; they may not. Usually, a girl gets regular, about once a month, in about a year. And if a girl hasn't become regular in about three years you should mention it to her pediatrician. No breast bumps by 14 or no period by 16 means you should talk with your doctor.
For weight gain, girls go from straight to curvy with fat deposits on their hips and breasts. This is sometimes welcome, and sometimes not. For complicated reasons at puberty, many girls stop being as active as they were, and this isn't a good thing. Keep your girls active in sports and in outside family activities. This is good for the whole family.
Number five, sleep; puberty resets the sleep pattern for kids to want to stay up later and get up later. This isn't just computers and TV; it happens in the Amazon. But teenagers need nine to 10 hours of sleep as they rewire their brain, and if kids stay up late on their computers and phones, the light from these devices suppresses melatonin and can suppress sleep. And if they have to get up early for school, they'll get distracted, irritable, and unfocused. Your kid needs sleep and you need to make sure they get it; TV, computers, phone lights off at 9:00. Good luck.
Cranky; aside from being sleep deprived, puberty rewires the brain and is making and changing its wiring, its neuron connections. More than any time since age two, risk taking, inability to judge risk, and all the things we associate with the mature brain just aren't happening. Here are some things parents can do.
First of all, you should know what to expect. If you don't know what to expect, you need to do a little reading. Get together with other mothers so that you might actually practice your patter. Just as I practiced my talk today before I talk to you about puberty, you should practice what you're going to say so you're comfortable with the words. And be prepared. For your daughter, you should have supplies in the home. These should be supplies that are appropriate for a young girl. Have them ready so that you can help your daughter when her first period comes. She'll have a little more privacy. She should know where the material is and you can help her.
And what about the weird business, the recognition that they aren't the people who they just were when they were eight, that reliable, mature, terrific eight-year-old? And they're not the people who are going to be at 25, that reliable, mature, terrific 25-year-old. This is a transition; you got through it when they were two to three, you'll get through it now. And remember, no matter how painful this is for you, it's more painful for your daughter. Hang in there; it'll get better. This is Dr. Kirtly Jones and thanks for joining us on The Scope.
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