Preteen and Teen Girls, Puberty and the Period
Are you, or someone you know navigating the preteen or the teen girl? Julie Metzger is a Pediatric Nurse and Founder of Great Conversations. Metzger has been providing programs on the topic of sex, puberty and growing up for over 30 years. She speaks with KBCS’s Yuko Kodama about what puberty brings to a girl’s life and the family.
Producer: Yuko Kodama
Image courtesy of Great Conversations – Photo taken by Losa Brooks
91.3 KBCS, music and ideas. Listener supported radio from Bellevue College. Up next, a story on how to talk about puberty, sex, and the period with your young teen. This is Yuko Kodama with KBCS, with Julie Metzger, a pediatric nurse and founder of Great Conversations, which provides programs for families of teens and preteens about puberty, sex and growing up. What are some examples of stories that you’ve come across that really speak to how important the puberty even having the period, it really comes down to that in a lot of ways, right? This kind of expectation that “okay, at some point, I’m going to have a period. And what is that going to be like? And how scary is that?” Is there like a story that you could share around the potency of that for a young girl?
Maybe what we’re saying actually is, what is the foundational basis of how I build this curriculum and built this curriculum 31 years ago. Because I think part of it is, “what is the story that you need to tell?” The foundational idea is rewriting a story. There are a lot of adult women who walk in with a certain story around what a period means. There are words that are described very negatively, and they walk in sort of assuming a story. And they’re assuming the story, so much so that they’re assuming that we’re going to tell that story and that their daughters will learn that story and much of it is based on secrecy and shame and pain, and embarrassment and inconvenience. For me, from the very beginning, one of the whole goals here is to rewrite the narrative around that while still claiming the truth about a period. There are lots of things for instance, that are inconvenient about a period, they’re logistics. But I think looking at them more matter of factly, versus as if they’re a total pain and insurmountable, which is more the story that we’re told or that we continue to tell, even amongst each other because people, of course, don’t talk out loud about a period, which is its own problem, that we don’t talk out loud about periods, but even between ourselves as women, we tend to only tell a negative story. So at the most foundational place, my language and storytelling and description of puberty, of what it means, what it’s about, periods being only one part of that is a sort of rewriting of that narrative. 90% of my words are, I am talking directly to the girls in the room. Even though I’m talking to the girls, the people that walk out the most transformed are 100% the adults in the room. I can just see it in their faces, “I never thought about talking about it like this,” or they’ll walk out like “I haven’t laughed that hard in a year. That was like being at a comic stand up. I did not expect to cry or laugh.” There can be a story that doesn’t feel false, in fact, it feels so true that the adult people, dads, moms, are saying “I see it now that you’ve said it, I see it. And I’m excited about carrying that narrative forward.”
So it’s kind of like setting the table for the family to then be able to start talking about all of this in in a way that is more open, that is freeing,
And it isn’t shame, embarrassment, secret. You can still claim embarrassment while still lifting up. It’s what you’re learning out of that space. I have worked hard in these 31 years to surround the narrative that lifts up while also claiming the matter of fact truth of how to get a tampon in. It’s how you can look straight at what is truth, knowing that the culture, the narrative that all the adults have grown up within that room are that periods and most of puberty actually takes you away from what we are looking for in adult women. You get bigger, you have BO, you have pimples, you have greasy hair, you have leg hair, you have hair, you add fat to your body, and you bleed. I mean, there’s nothing about that that has been told in a way that lifts people up and yet how curious since none of the human beings on the planet would be here without the capacity of a woman’s body to be able to do the work to conceive and carry a baby and deliver, you’d think it would be the thing we would lift up most and honor. Puberty takes you away from what we admire in a beautiful woman and purity takes you toward what we look for in a man. So when you think of boys’ puberty, we lift up. “Oh, you’re getting bigger, your voice, your jaw, your muscles, your virility, your shape, your size, your manliness,” it’s a lifting up all the way along for boys puberty, and it is absolutely diminishing for what the story is, because we admire smaller women, not so messy, without hair, without BO. Those things don’t feel feminine. You know, we don’t think “oh, what’s the feminine ideal?” We don’t say, “well, for sure she’ll have BO.” It’s a curious and interesting thing, the weight that we carry, as women, around. Just think about it, that we have to remove all of our body hair to be attractive. It is just a amazing idea to think about.
What kind of experiences do you tend to see among people who come through?
One of the things that I can almost never get over and it’s so interesting, because it’s the narrative we’ve all bought into, iis when we had everyone an index card and give people two options. One is to ask any question. And the second option is write the thing you are most looking forward to in puberty and the thing you are least looking forward to in puberty. And we get, you know, 130 cards back and I read the most and the least out loud, very predictively. The girls are talking about things that are physical that we’ve already talked about, “I’m most looking forward to growing taller, I’m least looking forward to a period” would be the 80%. One of the interesting things is we’re also asking the adults in the room to do that same card and the most common thing that a grown up writes is that “they’re least looking forward to the moodiness of their daughter, or their mood swings.” They create a negative narrative around moods and emotions and I, I find myself so… I have an experience of sadness in that. That’s hard to describe, because I want to drop those cards down right in that moment, and this is, again, 31 years of this, it’s like, I want to look right in the eyes of those people who wrote that card and just help redirect their thinking about how important emotions are. How we need our girls to feel angry, how we need our girls to feel sad, how we want our kids to experience a wide range of emotions. That being emotions are about how we respond to the world. We need our girls to be not burying that, but actually learning and articulating that. Our task and challenge is how to articulate and show self control around how we act upon our emotions, but not that our girls are in any way, negative to the world by being moody. That is so powerful and visceral for me. I, I don’t even know what to do sometimes with that because I feel like sometimes those moms write that to be funny. Or they write it because that’s the story that they just assume. Or they actually do have real fear about emotions in their own home, because they can’t take it. I want to work on that. If it wasn’t for teenagers, the world would be a much less courageous place. If you think of so many extraordinary things that have happened because of teenagers. The Revolutionary war, most of the people who fought were teenagers. If you think of civil rights, most of the people who are brave enough to get onto a bus, to have the courage to sit at a lunch counter, where you’re not invited, requires real anger and real passion, and real sadness, and real emotion to be able to take that on and that’s the way the world improves and changes. If those same teenagers in Nashville and other places did not sit at that lunch counter, because they were afraid of showing their anger or their sadness, the world would not change. Young people who, because of their impulsivity, because of their passion, because of their sense of social justice because of their courage, that changes the world. That’s not an eye roll. That’s transformative.
That was Julie Metzger, a pediatric nurse and founder of Great Conversations which provides programs for families of teens and preteens about puberty, sex, and growing up.
91.3 KBCS music and ideas, listener supported radio from Bellevue College.
KBCS 91.3 FM online at KBCS.fm. The teen girl can be complex to navigate for some guys, but male caregivers can have an important role to play in a girl’s future relationships. Up next, KBCS’s Yuko Kodama interviews a veteran in this field, Julie Metzger, a pediatric nurse and founder of Great Conversations, a program for families of teens on puberty, sex, and growing up.
You offer the Dads of Daughters class. So what is it about?
I thought, “Oh it would be really fun to talk to dads more about – and kind of help them along on the journey.” There’s a freedom in the room. They feel like they can talk more safely, maybe without being judged or embarrassed themselves. The dads are fantastic! Sometimes there’s, you know, 150 dads and me in the room. It’s pretty magical. I say, “Well, I’m not a dad. But I do know a lot about girls.” I believe strongly, and I would do this in any talk about teens, I think there’s sort of a primary task of adolescence, physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and kind of talk through what’s our priority as a grown up parenting these girls. My job is to help people improve their conversations. Let’s take the physical aspects of girls development. I talk about puberty for girls how it’s both the same and different for boys. It’s a very short, very precise, kind of five to six year journey. Tends to start in early elementary school finish up, many, at the end of middle school, early High School, that’s very different than boys’ puberty. I talk about what that looks like. How puberty takes you away from what we idealize and I mean, that’s all kind of a wake up for dads to think about, because they have not had that experience themselves. But then I talk about how because of some of those things, and because our society is worried about obesity-and needs to be-it’s important to hear though that, as we parent girls through puberty, our job really is not to talk about weight gain or food or things where we’re judging and shaming girls for their growth because between the ages of 9 and 16 a girl’s going to gain 15 to 55 pounds and that’s not going to come perfectly and evenly with their height. Many girls get fuller, bigger, before they get taller and I think there are lots of dads who think “oh, my daughter’s getting unhealthy. She’s, maybe she’s going to be fat or obese.” They worry they judge they create shame around those things and so I invite dads into the truth about girls physical development and about how they can encourage, promote and lift up their daughter’s physical selves by sharing activities, supporting their passions in their physical activities, encouraging them in that way, and inviting great food into their lives without that additional shame around weight gain. You know you can take that down each of those aspects, emotional, social, cognitive. And emotional for sure. A rewrite of lots of parents, dads, all humans around negating girls emotional selves. Helping them respond to their daughter’s emotional communication in a way that acknowledges and invites them to see themselves as heard and understood. I mean the research is super evident that when girls see and know themselves to be heard and understood by grown ups, there are healthier outcomes, they reduce their risk behavior, they slow down in their initiation of sex. They tend to know what it means to create healthy relationships. And there’s all sorts of amazing studies about the particular significance of dads in that work.
That was Julie Metzger, pediatric nurse and founder of Great Conversations which offers programs for families of preteens and teens to learn about sex, puberty and growing up.
Getting Messages Out to Teens
How do we communicate with teenagers? You can bet a lot of people are interested in catching their attention. CBS news reported that companies were spending nearly $17 billion a year marketing to kids in 2009. And according to the New York Times, the average city dweller is exposed to over five thousand advertisements a day. This makes it hard for agencies with a public service announcement and limited budget to send out a message with an impact.
Over the summer, two public agencies in our region made news for their outreach to teens. One was the Seattle Police presence at Hempfest and another was an anti-smoking campaign by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
Our guests for the discussion on how some are getting their public service messages to teens lately are:
- Miae Aramori, Program Manager of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s Environmental Health Division
- Dr. Bruce Pinkleton, Professor at Washington State University’s Edward R Murrow College of Communication and Associate Director of the Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion Research.
- Pre-recorded excerpts of an interview with Detective Mark Jamieson at the Seattle Police Department were included.
- Seattle Police Department blotter post titled marijwhatnow?
- Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s Suck On This campaign
- Reel Grrls, a local non-profit that teaches media literacy and media-making
- Northwest Center for Excellence in Media Literacy
Click here to Listen to the Interview