Summer Adventures and Puberty
By Joshua Sinkin, MD
Summertime and the livin’ ain’t always easy. With the end of the school year approaching, many children have plans to go off to summer camps, go on vacations, take trips abroad and have sleepovers. The underlying themes to these activities is spending time away from one’s parents, learning new life skills, gaining autonomy and hopefully having a good time. Additionally, these activities often require facing many new challenges. Although summer camp and summertime activities should be an exciting and fun time for children, often the difficulties of growing up can rear their unexpected heads at the most inopportune times. This can be particularly true for many adolescent girls as they go off on these adventures while going through puberty. Here are some simple guidelines to help you prepare your loved ones for their time away and for puberty in general.

Explain to your daughter the basics of puberty. “Puberty” is a generalized medical term characterizing an adolescent’s transition from sexual immaturity to sexual (reproductive) maturity. Encompassed within this transition is the maturation of thoughts and cognition, social and behavioral engagements and physical development. Driving the changes of puberty are a complex coordination of hormones, which eventually lead to a series of physical changes that often occur in a predictable pattern. In girls, the most common, earliest detectable physical change of puberty is growth of stature and breast development. This is then followed by growth of pubic hair and then finally menstruation. Roughly six months before her first menstruation, or period, a girl will often notice a clear vaginal discharge in her underwear. This is a great time to prepare her for her first period!

The onset of puberty in girls has been trending earlier with the average age being around 10.5 years and a range of 8 - 12 years. An individual’s genetic makeup is responsible for the timing of the onset of puberty. Prior to adolescence and puberty there are no differences in the occurrences of depression between genders; however, the prevalence of depression in adolescent girls becomes twice that for boys and is often associated with a negative self-image.

Puberty is so variable that adolescent girls at camp will have vastly differing degrees of pubertal maturity within the same age groups, including physical and behavioral traits. It is important for parents to help daughters understand the normalcy of the variation of breasts, pubic hair, body shape, menstrual bleeding and help them prepare for feelings that arise. Puberty can raise a lot of questions about body changes, self-image, gender and sexuality. Just as boys sometimes wear shirts to cover their adolescent bodies during phases of development, ensuring your daughter wears what she is comfortable swimming in is necessary. Being open to discussing how one feels about one’s body (shape, weight, size) without shame can be difficult. Helping girls advocate for themselves (who can she go to if she is having concerns about self-concept) is most important. Making individual choices without feeling pressured is another area to discuss openly.
Breakin’ It Down

Be Ready
If she hasn’t yet had her first period, then camp is as likely a place to start as anywhere. Take the time to talk to your daughter about what a period is and what she can expect. Be open to her curiosity and listen. What has she heard? What does she know thus far? Any friends already have their periods? Let her knowledge guide how direct and informative you need to be moving forward. Be honest and keep it simple. If you don’t know the answer to something she asks then make it a point to discover it together.

Be More Ready
Following “The First Talk,” have more talks. It takes time to digest the intricacies of growing up, let alone the complexities of becoming a woman.

Be the Readiest
Now it’s time to prepare her for the main event; her first period. Before going away to camp it is important to make a care package together with the supplies she will need: pads, tampons, pantiliners and plenty of spare underwear. Go shopping for the supplies together. Sure, she may be embarrassed to be seen with mom and/or dad in the hygiene aisle, but being ready for her period is a part of the rest of her life. Normalize it and try to make it fun.

Practice Makes Perfect
There are so many products available now that are better for active young women. Products like thinner, flexible, more absorbent pads and tampons that are slimmer with sleek, easy to use applicators. Get a variety and teach her how to use each product. She will gradually find what works best and what is most comfortable for her.

Cramping her Style
Periods can be light, heavy, crampy, accompanied by mood difficulties and unpredictable in many other ways. Teach her about the many ways she can treat the symptoms associated with her period. Pain relief medications like Tylenol, Advil or Midol are the gold standards for menstrual cramps. Be sure that your daughter gets these medications from the camp nurse to ensure proper dosing rather than packing them individually. Ensure she stays hydrated with water. Staying active is also a great way to detract her from her discomfort, though it is okay to rest and use heating pads on her abdomen and/or back as needed. Encourage her to talk to her camp counselors and camp nurse if she has questions or concerns, as these are older women who have been in her shoes.

There’s no such thing as an easy first period, let alone having it away from home, but teaching your daughter to be prepared and proud of her body and development will only help. She’ll probably not thank you at first, but certainly will later.
Joshua Sinkin, MD is an Ob/Gyn at Coastal Women’s Healthcare.