12 Things Missing From Most School-Based Puberty Curriculums
Mar 15, 2021
Do you remember the school-based puberty talk you received in elementary school? I do. I can still see the cover of the pamphlet we received called “Julie’s Story.” I remember the girls and boys were separated and when we came back together (I vividly remember we made our reunion in Art Class) all the girls had to strategically hide our bag of sample pads and tampons from the boys. And we’ve been hiding ever since. There’s not a woman reading this who hasn’t mysteriously slipped a tampon up her sleeve or in her back pocket or, like my 8th grade best friend used to do, in her bra. What’s with all the shame and hiding? And I also remember commercials for menstrual pads would always use a blue Windex-looking substance to pour over the pad to show the absorbency. Ummmm, not sure about you, but I bleed red (or pink or brown). Sigh.
I think our level of education has progressed a bit since 30 years ago, but based on the information my daughter received in her 5th grade puberty talk, not much. Here’s what I think was missing from her school-based puberty education and I’m guessing this applies to most of our daughters.
- Anatomy of the vulva explaining the name and function of each part. And yes, this includes the clitoris (hello!!!!) and both sets of labia.
- A reminder of how to wash and care for the vulva (trust me, I see 40 year old women who still don’t know why this is important)
- Normal breast findings and how to do a breast self-exam. Yes, in 5th grade. If you own the parts, you need to know how to care for them!
- Types of vaginal discharge, how it will look differently throughout the month, and when to be concerned.
- What a vagina should smell like. Guess what? A slightly fishy odor is A-OK.
- Where to find their pelvic floor muscles and how to contract and relax them. If my daughter can do burpees in gym class, she sure as heck can learn how to work the important muscles at the bottom of her pelvis to prevent leaking when she’s doing burpees many years later, ahem!
- Tips for managing moods. Yes, I’m glad they cover PMS and stress but these girls need our help learning how to get in front of mood swings and strategies for dealing with the extra stress that comes with being a kid today.
- A show and tell of ALL the period products out there (not just pads and tampons). They should see non-disposable cloth pads, menstrual cups, and period underwear. There are more choices than there used to be and they deserve a right to choose the products that work best for them.
- An in-depth discussion of period app choices for phones/Ipads if they have them or at least to download onto a parent’s device (Lord knows I plan to track my daughter’s cycle when she finally gets it). Let’s use technology to our advantage and help these girls learn to track their moods, energy levels, discomfort, etc
- A body image discussion and tips for recognizing messaging on social media that does not align with health
- Time for problem-solving their most FAQ. Maybe they’re not brave enough to ask questions at school in front of their peers…..so let’s ask the questions for them. After teaching period workshops for over 3 years, a lot of girls have the same questions, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some brave girls willing to raise their hands and ask the questions. I’ve written them down because I KNOW there are other girls our there also wondering if they can go to the bathroom with a tampon in, where they should store their period products, what to do if they get their period at a friend’s house, if the boys in their life will know they have their period, and more.
- And this one is the most important missing ingredient in school-based period curriculums: YOU!!!
We deserve a front row seat for this most important discussion. And even if you don’t want to be the driver of the conversation (no sweat!) our daughters need to see us as an authority on the subject, someone they can come to with follow-up questions, a trusted confidant. When we leave this coaching up to the school (whether it’s a teacher, school nurse, or pair of headphones doing the instructing…don’t get me started), we’re like a third wheel rolling along on the outside of the inner circle. Moms, we are the HUB!!! Don’t trust a third party with your daughter’s fate. Take back a job that was destined for you. And if you need a little help, you know where to find me!