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How To Help Your Teen Through Puberty

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Parents may groan at the thought of their children reaching puberty, but it's no picnic for the kids, either. Carol Weston has written two books about girls, and is the longtime advice columnist for Girls’ Life magazine. Here's her advice on how parents can help their teens through puberty.

DENISE: Hi there I’m Denise Richardson and this is howdini.com. Carol Weston is with us. She is the author of many books including Girltalk and the Girls' Life advice columnist since 1994. Puberty is a big issue. Girls and boys, physical changes and emotional changes. Let’s start with the physical changes for girls.

CAROL: Girls are really worried about breast size because boys are kind of concerned about breast size too. So it’s a tough one those years. But basically, um, I tell girls, ‘you are going to hit puberty, you know, relax it will happen. There’s not a thing you can do, so you just have to realize that your breasts will grow. Small, fine, medium, fine, big, fine. There’s nothing you can do so just get so that you’re going to enjoy the body that you have. Girls, uh, the average age in America of menarche, the first period is twelve and a half. Because the media keeps talking about how girls are getting more mature younger and younger I think there’s some parents and some girls who think now wow I’m ten and I haven’t started. That’s normal. If you have started at ten that’s fine cause there’s a lot of girls who start at fourteen and a half. But the average age is twelve and a half. For African-American girls it’s a little bit, a couple of months sooner. For heavy girls, it’s a little bit sooner, but uh I just think that’s an important message cause a lot of girls are so worried about not having started their period.

DENISE: And what about boys and physical changes?

CAROL: So with boys it’s not quite as shocking because it’s not something as dramatic, but they’re aware in the locker room of who’s got some hair, underarm and pubic hair, and, and also abs. You know, muscles, that’s not technically a puberty thing, but that’s how—that’s almost the equivalent of suddenly looking good and looking attractive, and they’re very aware of, of who’s more built and you know who’s—the height thing too. So it’s hard. The voice changes for boys. The mustache—the boys who leave that little bit of scraggly hair. The ones who shave early. It’s, it’s pretty tough, and also if you think of this isn’t really puberty, per se, but braces, pimples. Just when kids are suddenly becoming young adults and wanting to look good for each other they kind of look their worst.

DENISE: And there are the emotional changes that go along with it that they really don’t understand themselves.

CAROL: Right. I mean, you know, there’s the hormones going crazy, but basically if you want to help your daughter, say, through puberty she might be far too embarrassed and awkward to say I want to go bra shopping. I know I have no breasts at all, Mom, but everybody else in my grade has beautiful little bras and I want to go with you. She’s not going to say that. So it’s a real kindness if the mother, when they’re shopping, can say, ‘hey I need a new bra, you know, wanna come here with me,’ or ‘do you want to try on bras?’ Same thing with, you know, pads and tampons. Having that stuff in the house and saying to your pre-teen daughter who hasn’t started yet, ‘by the way I bought some pads. There just right here in the bathroom underneath the sink just in case you or your friends ever need them.’ Just very matter of fact. I’m telling you it will make your daughter’s pulse lower to a—in a very good way. So…

DENISE: When you’re giving advice GL magazine, what are you hearing from young people? Their issues?

CAROL: Well a lot of them are aware that they’re suddenly moody, or suddenly their anger seems to be veering out of control. And in most cases this is normal. This is called adolescence and they’re going through it, and we, the parents, are going through it with them. Sometimes I just say, look it’s normal to suddenly have these swings, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to say ‘I hate you Mom,’ or, or, ‘I hate you,’ to your friends. So, so be aware that if you’re feeling this way write it down in a diary. And a parent can suggest this to a kid too. You know, write it in a diary: ‘I am so mad at everybody.’ And then you’re sort of amazing after dinner you don’t feel so mad. Also, actually, we—kids are mammals. It’s really important that they get enough sleep and they get enough food because just like husbands and wives if they’re extra hungry or sleepy you’re going to get an extra cranky kid. So, you know, take care of them physically, but be aware that if they, uh, are going through emotional swings just don’t swing back. Just say, ‘whoa you just said you hate me. That, that hurts. I sure don’t hate you. I love you and in fact I don’t think you hate me either, I think you’re mad at me. Now why don’t we take a little break here and we’ll talk about this later.’ Versus fighting back.

DENISE: Mm-hmm. Bottom line is that be gentle with your children and love your children, and allow them to come to you with whatever is going on with them.

CAROL: Bottom line is always be gentle with your children, love your children. I love how you said that. It’s a privilege to be a parent. It goes really fast, so if you want to spend the years, you know, nagging and screaming, you’re going to get a lot of screaming back. Whereas you give them the love they’ll give the love back. They will. They want to look good. They want to feel good. So help, be on their team.

DENISE: And you’re a good teammate for us all. Thank you so much Carol Weston.

CAROL: Thank you.

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