How To Talk To Kids About Menstruation, Because These 5 Messages Will Definitely Make A Positive Impact
I've never been a parent, so I'm no expert on how to talk to children about menstruation. But I do know from personal experience how not to — because the messages our society sends about menstruation made me, like many people, uncomfortable with my period and my body in general as an adolescent. Nobody ever personally told me "your period is gross" or "it will be a terrible experience," but between all the immature period jokes we hear, the cheesy and vague educational videos we see in school, and the silence otherwise surrounding the subject, it's unlikely for any of us to reach menarche with a healthy view of menstruation unless someone actively counteracts the messages we're taught by default.
In addition to the media and our culture at large, authority figures can also send some destructive messages about periods without realizing it. For example, parenting blogger Alaura Weaver points out that saying "you're a woman now" can put an overwhelming burden on kids who have just started their periods, make the event seem like a bigger deal than it is, and imply that everyone who menstruates is already an adult when, in reality, "the years between menarche and adulthood are just as amazing and they need to embrace and find the beauty in that time of in-between," she tells Bustle.
Parents, teachers, and other influential people in kids' lives, however, can also positively impact how they feel about their bodies and themselves. "We need to change the message of shame and impurity and sexualization when it comes to menstruation and instead give a message of growth and empowerment," Weaver said.
Here are some things we can teach kids, no matter how they identify, to instill healthy, body-positive attitudes.
1. You Have Many Options
When I first got my period, I only learned about tampons and pads. I was also told I was "too young for tampons" (whatever that means), which I later learned were far more effective in preventing the leaks I struggled with while using pads. But those aren't even the only two options! Many are turning to menstrual cups as a simpler, more environmentally friendly alternative to these products. In addition, period tracking apps now offer a nifty way to stay on top of your cycle and health, and there's one that can even tell you when to empty your cup! In addition, some people choose not to get their periods at all by using continuous birth control. The world of feminine hygiene products is your oyster.
2. Everyone's Cycle Is Different
After learning in school that the average period lasts three to five days, I freaked out a bit when mine lasted a whole week. Of course, nothing was medically wrong with me; there's just a wide range of cycles. The word "cycle" itself is even a bit misleading because not everyone's period is regular. It's normal for your period not to arrive at the same time every month, and especially in the first few years, it's common for it to not even come every month. Of course, if you could be pregnant and you miss a period, you should still check that out, but there are other reasons your period may be irregular that also don't indicate any medical problem.
3. It's Normal
Given the ubiquitousness of jokes about how gross periods are and the censoring of allusions to menstruation on social media, kids could benefit from a reminder that menstruation is a normal bodily function that is stigmatized not because it's inherently off-putting but because of a long, largely religious history of associating it with the supposed inferiority of the female sex. To help young people challenge the stigma surrounding periods, you can point out that blood isn't considered so alarming in other contexts, such as when someone gets a cut. You can also point out that nobody freaks out when someone says "I have to go to the bathroom" the way they do when someone mentions their period, even though plenty of unappealing bodily functions happen there.
4. It Shouldn't Be Uncomfortable
The media and my peers taught me some pretty scary things about menstruation, including that they would be painful both physically and emotionally. Hearing these things made me dread the day of my first period, viewing it as a marker of an inevitable downward turn my life would soon take. I'm not denying that these warnings are true to some people's experiences, but they weren't true to mine, which means I was worried over nothing. And there's really nothing for anybody to worry about because there are ways to deal with the discomfort some people's periods cause, like taking painkillers, doing exercises, following specific dietary guidelines, or eliminating them altogether through continuous birth control. People soon to get their periods should also know that severe physical or emotional discomfort is a sign that they should look into other possible sources like endometriosis or premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
5. This Doesn't Change A Thing
A teacher once told me we should be proud to get our periods because it's a natural inauguration into womanhood and means that we can take on the important role of carrying life. I understand the temptation to wax poetic about menstruation as a form of empowerment, but the truth is, it's just a biological function and only has the meaning we ascribe to it. And we should be careful about ascribing meaning to menstruation because everybody experiences it differently. Not all people who menstruate are women, not all women menstruate, and certainly not all people who menstruate ever want to have kids. Because we're often taught these things, it can help to remind kids that getting their period doesn't end their childhood or innocence. Other than the fact that they'll most likely be putting in pads, tampons, a menstrual cup about once a month (or using continuous birth control), their lives will continue as they were. That may not be the most sentimental thing to tell an adolescent on the verge of menarche, but it's the truth.
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