Monday, September 21, 2009

Menstruation Education and other Puberty Resources for Parents

Learning about Menstruation

In 1970 I was in the 5th grade. I vividly remember an afternoon in which all the girls in the class were given a mimeographed note for our mothers to sign and return giving permission for us to stay after school on a certain day to view a film about "menstruation." This was a term that I had never heard of. My classmates didn't have an explanation either, although one boy teased that HE knew what it was all about! We scoured our school dictionary to no avail.

At home, my mother signed the note without comment. She encouraged me to "look it up in the encyclopedia" when I tried to probe further into this mystery. The encyclopedia explanation baffled me, and the sketch of female reproductive organs was as abstract to my 10-year-old mind as a Rorschach inkblot.

Back at school some of the girls asserted that since "menstruation" started with the word "men-," we were going to learn something about boys. One dear little friend then confided some secrets she knew about sex which seemed impossible (but turned out to be true.)

The thirty (or so) 5th grade girls of Willitts Elementary gathered at the end of the day, sitting cross-legged on the cement basement floor of our dear old school. The classroom teachers were joined by the school nurse. Our principal disappeared after he had ensured that any lingering boys were absolutely gone from the campus.

Our film called, "It's Wonderful Being a Girl," featured Libby, a preteen who was learning about menstruation. (Watch it here if you like.) The film featured the Modess brand of menstrual sanitary napkins, understandable as they were products of the sponsor, Personal Products Corp. a division of Johnson & Johnson. It's common for makers of "feminine hygiene" products to offer such educational fare--offering an educational service as they advertise and make babysteps towards influencing brand loyalty. (It was obvously effective, in my case anyway, because I've vividly remembered this film for all of these 35-plus years.) After the film we were given the companion booklet with the (somewhat threatening?) title of, "Growing up and Liking it."

After the film the school nurse gamely lectured the assembled bewildered little girls. As it turned out, a few girls in the other class admitted some knowledge of this subject. Meanwhile, I was still confused and now rather frightened. Sometime later while visiting my friend Sandy, we raided her older sister's room and examined her sanitary napkins and belt--she would have killed us if she'd known. The subject of menstruation never came up again for perhaps a year or so. My mother one day showed me a "starter kit" she had purchased for me for the day I would need it. Ugh! When that day eventually came, I was scared and upset.  Mom was at work and the box was in the closet of her room. I did cry a little bit while telling her about "what had happened" to me that afternoon. She gave me the box and a bit of reassurance and that was that.

Menstruation Resources . . .

Menstruation was never much of a topic of conversation in my life. I don't have a daughter and didn't anticipate having to explain menstruation to my son. But he was inquisitive when a 1999 episode of the animated series, "King of the Hill" featured Hank, the main character, awkwardly coping as his neighbor's daughter started her first menstrual period while her parents and his wife were away. Of course, an 8-year-old boy was satisfied with minimal information. I was surprised at the time to notice in myself the urge to be forthcoming coupled with a reluctance to be specific.  I attributed it to the lack of discussion on such issues in my own life.

I decided I needed to prepare for more puberty talk to come so I did a bit of research and found a great book to help me explain the "need to know" issues in what was then the pre-internet era for my family. Now days there are all kinds of resources online to help educate girls and boys about menstruation and puberty. Again, many of these informational websites are sponsored by personal product manufacturers, but the approaches are subtle and not off-putting.

. . . from the Feminine Products Industry

Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Kotex, offers "My Daughter's Period," an informational web-based brochure that offers advice on when and what to discuss when talking with your girl about puberty. The Kotex website also includes "Girlspace," a sort of social networking application targeting puberty issues.  For the girl or woman who really needs to plan ahead, check out this Kotex Period Planner so that you'll always be prepared.

Johnson & Johnson manufactures a number of different feminine “protection” products including O.B. tampons, Carefree panty shields, and Stayfree sanitary napkins. Their website is worth checking out and includes these notable educational offerings: an interactive website, "Teens for Teens" and for parents "A Guide to Handling Your Child's First Period."

Proctor & Gamble is the parent company of Tampax and Always. Not to be outdone by the competition, their website also boasts a Period Predictor. Most importantly their educational features include, "A Page for Mom" and, a website which provides age-appropriate information for pre-teens. The site includes an explanatory section called, "Your Period," which is good information, but I honestly feel it is written over the heads of girls at an age to learn about their first period. Fortunately there are better publications from P&G available for download, namely:  "Always Changing" for boys concerning puberty and "Always Changing," for girls  to explain menstruation. These booklets also serve as companion literature to Proctor & Gamble's,  Always Changing school-based program.

Grade A Plus!!! For any inexperienced young girl, I truly feel this publication is the most exceptional:  "Always Changing," Special Ed Version for Girls.  Although this is aimed at special ed students, I think that the clear, basic explanations in this publication are very appropriate for tender young girls of age 9 and 10. I would also consider this a good choice in cases where English is a second language. Kudos to P&G on this publication.

. . . from Professional and Governmental Entities

. . . and even More, More, More about Menstruation!

Grade A Plus!!! Find a treasure-trove of vintage Feminine Products Company Booklets about Menstruation (some from as early as the 1920’s.) These booklets are available in their entirety on the Museum of Menstruation website.

My Little Red Book  is a recently published anthology of women's stories from around the world discussing the circumstances surrounding their first menstrual periods.

See comments left below from Elizabeth Kissling of the Society for Menstrual Research.  I look forward to checking out their website.  Thank you Elizabeth!

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Elizabeth Kissling said...

May I add a few more resources about menstruation? The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research is a nonprofit, interdisciplinary research organization that serves as a network for research on all aspects of menstruation, from menarche to menopause. You can find more about our recent research publications here.

We've also just launched a new blog, re:Cycling, where we publish commentary on all things menstrual, from new research to social and cultural aspects.

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