By Shereen Lehman
(Reuters Health) – - American girls
from low-income families often feel unprepared for puberty and have
mostly negative experiences during that time, a review of previous
Earlier research focused on experiences of middle-class and affluent
girls in the 1980s and 1990s. The current study is one of the first
to focus on girls from low-income urban areas in the U.S.
“Lower income girls do not feel adequately prepared for puberty and
the beginning of menstruation (menarche), particularly girls who
develop earlier than their peers,” study leader Ann Herbert told
Reuters Health by email.
“By not adequately preparing girls for this transition, we are
neglecting an opportunity to build a healthy foundation for sexual
and reproductive health,” said Herbert, who is a researcher with the
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York
As reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Herbert and
colleagues analyzed data from 20 studies of the psychosocial aspects
of puberty in low-income girls published between 2000 and 2014.
They looked at five general issues: the content of girls’
experiences with puberty; the quality of those experiences; the
messages they received about puberty; their relationships with other
people; and other factors that might have affected their
Most girls reported negative experiences during puberty, usually
related to their periods, when they felt embarrassed, confused and
scared. Also, many girls felt the need to hide their breast
development or were told to distance themselves from males.
One study participant remarked, “I did not want to be around boys .
. . When I started my period, I really had a nice little figure and
really did not want no one to see my figure so I wore baggy clothes
and dressed like a boy and stuff so boys would not be interested in
The girls usually felt the information they received from mothers,
sisters or teachers was inaccurate, insufficient or came too late,
“It was somewhat surprising to see how common it is for these girls,
who live in low-income families, to not get adequate information
about puberty. Also that some girls actually start menstruating
before knowing what it is and that it is going to happen to them,”
She said the girls clearly wanted to discuss puberty with their
parents, especially their mothers, but commonly complained that
discussions about menstruation went straight to warnings about
[to top of second column]
“Parents don't seem to realize that jumping from menstruation
straight to pregnancy prevention means they are skipping over a lot
of important information such as how menstruation works, why it
happens, and how to predict when your period will come,” Herbert
As a result, Herbert said, girls are left feeling confused about
what is going on with their bodies.
The finding that girls want their parents and other trusted adults
to be the sources of information means part of the solution involves
supporting parents in this role, Herbert said.
She and her colleagues are developing puberty educational tools with
top artists. “We are using design principles to translate what we
are finding from the research into educational tools that can help
girls communicate and reflect on these topics with trusted adults,”
Julianna Deardorff, a psychologist at the University of California,
Berkeley School of Public Health who wasn’t involved in the new
research, said the study has important implications for pubertal
education, particularly for lower-income girls who are clearly
missing out on key information.
“Puberty education often happens too late in schools, sometimes as
late as the 6th or 7th grades, well after most girls have started
breast development and have begun menstruating,” Deardorff told
Reuters Health by email.
Earlier and better preparation is critical, especially if we are
going to support our most vulnerable youth during this important
developmental transition, Deardorff said.
“My colleague Louise Greenspan, co-author of The New Puberty, and I
recommend that schools start puberty education in fall semester of
4th grade to ensure that early developers have much-needed
information before they are in the throes of this transition,” she
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2j8bL5F Journal of Adolescent Health, online
December 30, 2016.
[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2017 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.