Our Puber-Tween class is the first session of our flagship Rites of Passage series for 5th and 6th graders, designed especially for that age group. Most tweens in 5th and 6th grades are experiencing the beginning stages of puberty, and they require preparation for all the physical and emotional changes that will occur not only in their bodies, but for their friends as well—both boys and girls.
Parents are often uncomfortable with the idea of their tweens learning about how puberty affects the opposite sex. We understand why, as most of us didn’t get that kind of insight when we were that age. They worry that somehow there’s a risk in that kind of knowledge. We know, though, that the real risk is in allowing tweens to go through the radical changes puberty brings without clarity into what’s happening to their own bodies (and minds) and those of their peers.
The average age for girls to enter the first stages of puberty is around nine, so by the time they reach 5th or 6th grade, puberty is in full swing. Boys tend to enter puberty a little later. Those early stages of puberty look a little different for each gender at this stage.
- Body odor
- Darkened hair; underarm and pubic
- Emotional shifts
- Breast buds
- Body odor
- Feet getting bigger
- Emotional shifts
- Early onset acne
Take a moment to see if you can remember what it felt like when you were first experiencing these things. Did you have any sense of what your same-sex peers were experiencing at the same time? How about your peers of the opposite sex?
If your experience was like that of most of the parents we work with, you were likely sharing information you picked up from a variety of sources with your same-sex peers. Sometimes the information came from credible sources, sometimes not. I’d wager, though, that most of what you knew about the opposite sex was based on rumors and stereotypes.
Maybe the women reading this remember hearing about boys’ wet dreams, unexpected erections and intense desire for sex? Maybe men remember hearing about how menstruation makes women emotionally volatile? Probably some of what you remember hearing, you also remember from barbs and insults that were thrown around on the playground or when the adults weren’t looking. How would your experience have been different if the mystery surrounding what your peers were experiencing had been dulled down with facts?
We believe that understanding is always a good thing, and our model of including parents in the classes supports that. In Puber-Tween, with the parents in attendance, we cover the physical and emotional changes everyone goes through so kids have a clear understanding that puberty doesn’t just happen to girls or boys. Especially because they do tend to begin at an early age, it’s important that they understand that boys experience changes that they might not be ready for or comfortable with and that some of the changes that girls experience are every bit as embarrassing and out of their control.
This information is setting the stage for each of the genders to be more understanding and compassionate. One of the biggest fears tween girls have is that a boy will say something about her growing breasts or her period. We’ve proven that by explaining exactly why those physical changes are happening, boys get some context and understand why girls might feel sensitive about what’s happening to their bodies. Beyond helping with peer relationships, empowering boys with knowledge about what’s happening to girls during puberty and beyond can make them more sensitive with their mothers, sisters and future partners and daughters.
Likewise, boys often move through their tween years terrified that someone will comment on the pace at which their body is developing—in terms of size and hair growth. Empowering girls with some insight into what boys are experiencing can improve their relationships with the boys and men in their lives.
I feel these open discussions are critically important to laying a strong foundation of mutual respect at an early age and stage. The better informed young people are, the more they appreciate how amazing all of our bodies are, the more likely they are to help change outdated attitudes about each other and increase respect.
The goal of all my classes is for parents and kids to have a positive forum to learn about the different changes that each go through, fostering mutual respect, which leads to a positive outcome as tweens transition to teens and beyond.