The Talk

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Not to alarm you or anything, but it has become increasingly common for girls to enter puberty at an earlier age. There is a great deal of speculation about why this might be, but few definitive answers. It may be related to diet, or to the chemical makeup of contemporary foods. It may be influenced by environmental factors, and triggered by stress, trauma, major life events, birth order, or any combination thereof. The fact is that girls’ bodies are often no longer waiting for the teenage years to start those hormonal engines.

My oldest daughter, aged nine, unceremoniously entered puberty a couple of months ago. This should not have been a big surprise, as both her mother and mine were also notably early bloomers. Both of us had talked to her about what was likely to happen, and from her reaction it seemed that she was better prepared than I was.

Case in point: when it happened I was volunteered to go shopping for her first tampons. Armed with specific instructions regarding the number, size and thickness of feminine hygiene products I was to seek out, I found that the industry had beaten me to it: there was in fact a “tween” brand prominently displayed on the shelf. It was as if they had confused consumer dads in mind.

I asked my wife when she had first had “the talk” with our daughter, and she told me that it had been coming up in conversation since she was a toddler. Rather than a single instructive talk, the preparation for puberty has been an ongoing dialogue. After all, when four girls and a mom are sharing a bathroom, certain things are noticeable. Nor was this dialogue connected necessarily to the larger—and often dreaded—”birds and bees” talk (does anyone call it that anymore?). There was no need to get into the mechanics of baby-making.

So, talking to our girls about puberty was part of a larger conversation about getting older, bigger and taller. This is an occasion for pride and excitement. I had been approaching it from my own experience with puberty, particularly around the acne that plagued me with some regularity into my early twenties, and which prompted, by advice from my dermatologist, my inaugural attempt at a beard (it was…inconsistent). I figured it was important for my daughters to know about the hair that would be growing in new places; the sweat; the kaleidoscopic surfeit of thoughts and feelings; the sudden variety of odors and bodily substances that are part of the package of growing up. Our eldest was already a veteran applier of deodorant, a fact which has been a source of curiosity, even admiration, for her sisters.

It was a natural progression. In order to mark this event as a cause for celebration rather than fear or trepidation, we have since allowed our eldest to get her ears pierced. Thus we have instituted a tradition particular to our own family culture. No doubt your family will have its own.