The hormonal waves are crashing. The mood swings might cause whiplash. The overwhelming sense that this child’s body is dictating their whole world.
I decided to write about some challenges girls face in puberty because I have witnessed the distress in both girls, and their families, during these erratic years of development. Thus, I want to speak briefly about some possible effects on girls’ behaviors, values and attitudes during these times to possibly aid parents’ understanding and ability to support their child/teen during this (possibly) disorienting time.
1. Body Dissatisfaction and Low Self-Esteem– can occur due to a time of increased self-consciousness (if your child has always been self-conscious, this probably won’t help). There are so many, rapidly occurring, changes happening in the body. According to development psychologist, Jane Mendle, “After infancy, (puberty) is the vastest, as well as the quickest transformation we ever experience. But unlike infancy, we are cognizant of the changes of puberty as they occur.” This self-consciousness often leads to a lot of distress.
2. Mood Swings- Insert all the clichés here. Rather than quote experiments with female mice, I’m just gonna say that there is truth to this. Puberty is a time of great emotional turmoil and distress for females. The patience and perseverance to ride the (hormonal) waves is helpful; especially if coupled with support in the form of teaching coping skills. (Or, even better, coaching your teen to recognize what helps her.)
3. Asserting Independence– Some of us nerds call it “individuation.” Individuation is the process by which an individual becomes distinct. (Note: Individuation is not a rejection of parents, it is a developmental process by which an adolescent begins to determine who they are within AND distinct from, and they do this through experimentation and value clarification; usually (unless their safety is tied to conformity).
Puberty in Younger Children:
When puberty is begun younger than most in one’s cohort (the group with which we are banded), there are additional stressors to consider; such as, possible feelings of betrayal by the body for changing before the psyche is ready to leave childhood (which can manifest as grief, anger, fear, etc.) Unfortunately, girls who start puberty early are at increased risk of distress, suicidality, body dissatisfaction, substance abuse and depression; which extends into adulthood.
However, there are ways parents can help! Here are three ways!!
1. Normalize- Help your child by explaining that the changes in their body are NORMAL. We all experience these changes, and they may just be ahead of schedule.
2. Talk– Secrecy breeds shame. Age-appropriate discussions are great! Honest and concrete communication helps. (Kids often imagine scary things when they believe their parents are hiding something from them.)
* Note: A good resource is The Care and Keeping of You 1: The Body Book for Younger Girls and The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls.
3. Listen: It’s often helpful to listen to what your child is telling you. They may tell you what is scary and that may be very helpful in your ability to help them cope.
Additionally, you can always reach out to a therapist when your child is distressed.
**One more additional note for dads: Your daughter notices when you pull back because their body is changing. It is important that you find a way to show her that you still love and accept her.
Here’s to riding the wave where it takes us!
Are you interested in speaking with Bree Emery, or one of our other incredible counselors? You can call our office at (970) 490-1309, or make an appointment on our website.