Parents have a tendency to feel a sense of dread when confronted by the onset of puberty. That dread seems particularly acute among fathers with growing daughters, presumably because they lack a frame of reference and because puberty in girls remains a borderline taboo subject (for a host of cultural reasons we don’t need to get into here). Where mystery abides, so too does mythology. And there are a lot of myths about the way in which girls go through puberty, many of them stigmatizing and bizarre. As it turns out, puberty is simply a child development process. There is nothing special about it. The weird emotional baggage that comes with it? You can put that down.
As puberty begins for a girl, it’s important that her parents look past the myths. Because more than anything they stand in the way of what can be a tumultuous time for young women, who will need their parents’ guidance. Yes, both of their parents.
Myth #1: Puberty for Girls Starts in their Tweens
Many parents conflate a girl’s menarche, of first menses, with the onset of puberty. As if, up until that point nothing has really been happening. But the fact is that puberty is a long process and has likely been occurring for years prior to the first awkward ask for menstrual pads and pain relievers.
The fact is that puberty can start anytime after a girl is 8 years old. The earliest signs of puberty may include breast growth and body odor. A typically developing girl will generally start producing the hormones that promote hair growth in the armpits and groin around 14, with the first period arriving about a year later.
Myth #2: There’s Nothing Wrong with Early Puberty
There has been plenty of casual observation in the last decade or so that puberty seems to be happening sooner. Many parents simply shrug off the knowledge as more of a factual curiosity than a condition that could have long-term effects on a child’s health. But early puberty can set a child up for serious issues in the future.
Essentially, early puberty works to accelerate maturity. But not just physical maturity. It’s also been linked with an increase in social problems like early drug use and sexual activity resulting in teen pregnancy. Studies have also suggested links to health problems including depression and some reproductive cancers.
Myth #3: Early Puberty is Earlier Than You Think
Puberty is happening so early that some doctors and endocrinologists have suggested moving the “standard” onset of puberty to as early as 6 or 7-years-old. And there are a host of reasons why puberty could be occurring in girls so young.
On recent study found that poverty is linked to early puberty. The research suggests that an impoverished mothers health can send signals to a developing fetus to develop more rapidly in order to reach reproductive age sooner after birth. And some research suggests that diet can also play a role. One longitudinal study found that girls who were obese were more likely to start puberty early.
Myth #4: Girls Going Through Puberty Don’t Smell as Bad as Boys
There’s an idea that young men going through puberty are really stinky. And that’s actually true. But girls don’t get a pass on puberty stink. Their biology creates the same conditions that cause boys to smell too.
The stink occurs as kids begin to sweat more due to hormonal changes. But it’s not the run of the mill forehead sweat causing the issue, it’s the oily sweat that secreted by what are known as sebaceous glands that produce oils. These oils are a particular favorite for bacteria who congregate in the dank spaces and create the odor. Importantly, these bacteria do not care if they are on a boy or a girl. The are equal opportunity stinkers.
Myth #5: Dads Should Leave Puberty Talk for Moms
Talking to girls about puberty can be completely nerve-wracking for dads whose experience growing up through puberty feels markedly different than what they are witnessing. But by treating the subject as taboo, Dads are inadvertently adding a layer of shame to a process that should be free of shame.
Sure, reading that won’t necessarily make it easier for dads to talk to daughters about puberty, but perhaps it can act as motivation. The important part for Dads is to stay as chill and matter-of-fact about the process of puberty as possible. That means answering questions honestly and talking about body parts without using euphemisms. It also means admitting when your ignorant about an issue and not asking her about her period in front of her friends.