Last week my daughter brought home…the blue note. She’s in fifth grade, and apparently, this colored piece of paper is a symbolic rite of passage for pre-pubescent and newly-pubescent youth. I went to a Catholic grade school, and while we had a puberty talk, I don’t remember what color the permission slip was. But “THE BLUE NOTE” was a big deal.
My kids bounded through the front door (middle child, oldest, then youngest with the rage of a lion, always in that order). “Mom, LOOK what we got at school!!!” She was equal parts horrified, excited, nervous and thrilled. Honestly that’s probably how most kids feel about puberty in general.
I knew this was coming. I knew there would be “the talk” in fifth grade…and still. I’ve always been open with her about the changes her body will go through. I’ve always explained things matter-of-factly. I’ve spoken openly about my own body changes and menstrual cycles. But this felt different. Official. Ominous, even?
See, it’s WAY more than periods and pimples. It changes EVERYTHING. Cynically, I realize my daughters will face things as a “woman” that they’ve been mostly protected from as girls. (Not all girls are protected from this, and for you I’m angry that someone would do this.) As a girl’s body becomes more curvy, as she becomes PHYSICALLY ABLE to conceive, the weight of all those ramifications weigh her down. I know I’m drawing from my own experiences, and shouldn’t project that on my daughters, but I want to protect them. I don’t want them to be cat-called or wolf-whistled or looked up and down by a pervy creeper–or worse.
But I can’t stop time. I can’t stop these changes in their bodies. And I don’t want to. I know each new chapter of life holds new beauty. One thing I do want to change, though, is how we’re talking to our youth about puberty. While I feel like things have come a LONG way since I was in school, there’s far to go. I’m not necessarily saying these changes should be made at a school level, since I know there are a lot of perspectives and beliefs and sensitivities. But it can start at home. It can start with us.
- Periods aren’t shameful. They’re a normal and very natural occurrence, and women shouldn’t have to go into hiding or keep themselves from activities they love. (Unless they want to hole up under the covers and binge-eat chocolate, I completely get that.)
- There are so many more options for period care now than there were when I was younger. Bulky pads and stabby tampons aren’t the only options, and girls should KNOW that.
- Cramps HURT, PMS is real, periods suck: I get that every body is different and that we don’t want to scare girls with the truth, but I think it’s better to over-prepare than under-prepare. They need to know that heavy bleeding, debilitating cramps, or extreme fatigue might be a very real thing for them, but that they’re not alone, and there are medical professionals who can help minimize these symptoms (possibly).
- Girls need to know what boys go through and vice versa. I understand separating the sexes for the bulk of the puberty talk, but boys need to know what periods are, why girls get them, and how to be supportive, or at the very least, not belittle or tease girls about it. Girls need to know that boys will start getting erections for no apparent reason, so they need to just ignore it, know that it’s normal, and nor belittle or tease boys about it. Boys experience a lot of shame with this, and not many people talk about it.
- Boys and girls need to know about sex. Now. The physical information, how to prevent pregnancy, how to engage in respectful relationships. When the body is physically ready, the mind is not long after. Though it may seem light years away, it’s better to be proactive and provide accurate information than try to undo the damage of bad intel and bad decisions down the road.
After receiving the “blue note” from my daughter’s school, I followed up with the school nurse to get a link to the video they’ll be watching. I think every parent should do this. Um…guys/gals? It’s a CRINGE fest. But not entirely in a bad way. Part of me was cracking up from the bad acting and eye-roll-worthy lines, “You’ll get so used to your period you’ll hardly notice it.” But another part of me felt a kinship with the girls in the video, who would have been not much younger than me when the video was made. (Okay, maybe a lot younger, but still.) It wasn’t all bad, but wasn’t all good. That’s why you should watch it for yourself, and talk with your son or daughter about the messages you’d like to clarify or correct.
You can also find other videos or resources to use along with the school video. Don’t let that be the only point of contact for your daughter on this crucial life change. Pull up your big-girl panties (with the heavy-flow pad with wings) and have that talk! It’s not so bad. 😉