Puberty: How to Start the Conversation
By Jennifer Bergen, Children’s Services Manager
A library customer recently came in asking for books or DVD’s to explain PMS to her 9-year-old daughter. The daughter avoided eye contact, while a male family member chuckled nervously. I immediately remembered the embarrassment of learning about puberty when I was young. Kids need to know, and trusted adults need to inform them, but the question is how to do that with sensitivity. Just bringing up puberty can lead to giggles, confusion, or all-out fear, depending on your audience. Books can help parents introduce the topic, provide facts and photos, and reassure kids that they are not alone in this journey.
Luckily, we’ve come a long way since Judy Blume’s 1970 novel, “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret,” which was still the go-to when I was kid in the 80’s. Now, children’s fiction is full of characters going through this phase of life. Additionally, I recently went through our nonfiction collection and ended up with a nice sized pile of books on my desk to review.
Girls can begin puberty as early as 8 or 9 years old, and some books are designed for these younger readers. The Care and Keeping of You from American Girl Publishing is colorfully designed with kid-friendly illustrations. It covers territory from hair care to periods. In Why Do I Have Periods?, girls will find good, concise information with more realistic illustrations or photos. The text is larger print, making it easier for younger readers to take in. The photos of some of the girls, including the one on the cover, are less happy, but that may resonate with girls who experience pain and cramping with their menstrual cycle.
The Girl’s Body Book and The Boy’s Body Book by Kelli Dunham are great choices for kids on the younger end of the puberty scale. They are longer, so kids may not read straight through, but they can easily find the topics they are interested in and read a short section to find out more about it. The books also include chapters about getting along with parents and family members, figuring out school, and friendship skills.
Lynda Madaras’s classic bestsellers What’s Happening to My Body? for boys and for girls are longer volumes packed with information. Madaras also has shorter books for younger ages, and workbooks that prompt readers to reflect on what they are learning. For a Christian perspective, try Where Do Babies Come From and How You Are Changing from Concordia Publishing’s “Learning About Sex” series. Karen Gravelle’s The Period Book and What’s Going On Down There are slim paperbacks that some readers may find less intimidating. The text is straight-forward and full of useful Q & A’s, and the illustrations around the edges provide some comic relief. Humor helps young readers relax a little if they are stressed about the subject matter. There are lots more options in the library collection, mostly in the Dewey Decimal 612’s, and also as downloadable e-books.
One of my favorite books is Growing Up: Inside and Out. It works for both boys and girls, and covers some sensitive but important areas in more detail than other books, such as suicidal thoughts, consent, sexual assault, and LGBTQ awareness. Author Kira Vermond doesn’t avoid difficult issues and frequently admits that it is all pretty complex and there are not always easy answers. This book is lengthy and covers a lot of territory, but the chapter titles and the index are helpful for skipping around as needed. It is the kind of resource that is handy to have available during the adolescent years.
If you think it will be a hard sell to get your child to read a book about puberty, there are some very short videos in the library’s DVD collection. Let’s Talk Puberty for Boys is animated, which helps to keep the topic light and create less embarrassment. The library also has My Changing Body for boys and for girls, and Start Smart: Puberty for Girls, all of which are only 10-20 minutes long. The videos might not give enough detail if your child is worried about something specific, but they provide a good introduction to this mysterious, transforming phase of life called puberty.