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WHAT IS ADOLESCENCE ?

Adolescence is essentially a transition from childhood to adulthood and is a journey of both exhilarating and exasperating experiences and surprises. It is a period of dramatic changes involving both physical and physiological changes which usually commence from the 10th year, until the 19th year. However, considering that each individual develops in his/her unique way, it is difficult to fix a definite age group. Many others feel that these days the onset of adolescence is even earlier, at 8 or 9 years!

Changes during Adolescence
It's a time of rapid physical and emotional changes, which can be exciting, but also confusing and trying, for the child and the parent. The beginning of adolescence is known as puberty, a period sometime between ages 9 and 17 when different hormones are produced by our bodies. These hormones which start off a whole process of changes both inside and outside our bodies may also produce periods of moodiness and restlessness in adolescents.

Puberty is marked by menarche (first menstruation) in girls, which generally occurs between the age of 11 and 14 years. For many children, this period of inevitable, rapid changes and challenges is overwhelming, and it makes it easier when your daughter knows and understands what is happening to her. It is also important to bear in mind that there are individual variations and it is “normal” for each child to be “different”, even amongst girls of the same family. Your daughter may often need to be reminded of this fact.

At this time a lot of physical changes are happening…you need to explain these to the children.

There are internal changes too…at this age when the children become irritated easily, means internal changes are taking place.
- Mothers of adolescents


Physical Changes

The physical changes occur before the psychological changes become evident. At puberty, other than menarche, there is development of secondary sexual characteristics. The changes that you notice are essentially :

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Your daughter is getting taller, outgrowing her clothes faster. Her hips are rounder and her waist narrower.
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Pimples may breakout, mostly on her face, and sometimes on the back, chest or buttock areas. These are usually because of the increased sebum (oil) secretion by the skin caused by the new hormones released in her body. Excessive oil also leads to clogged and infected pores, resulting in acne. The need to cleanse her face thoroughly and regularly must be explained.
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Her breasts start to grow fuller and in many cases tend to be tender and painful. Often one breast grows faster than the other. The nipple becomes firmer and a dark area around the nipple called the areola turns prominent. You will soon need to advise her to wear a bra.
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There is growth of hair under the arms and around the vulva.
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Her vulva and clitoris may grow slightly too.
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She will start to sweat more, mostly under her arms, and may start using deodorants. It is important to explain to her about body odour and emphasize the need for regular baths, use of soaps and scrubs.
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You may need to suggest your daughter to wash and shampoo her hair more often, since acne can also be caused by dirty hair and dandruff.
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She may experience a thick white sticky discharge from the vagina, which is again due to the hormonal changes. If it is in excess, a gynaecologist should be consulted.
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If not already done, you must make your daughter aware that soon she will be getting her menstrual period and explain about it and how to cope with it.
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While most of these changes are obvious and apparent, easily comprehended by your daughter, she may need to be told about others. For example, about pubic hair, vaginal discharge and her periods, which may be a fearful experience for a 10 year old. She may also react with shame, because by this time children begin to feel awkward and embarrassed about their bodies. It is also now that your daughter may start behaving differently, may be more withdrawn and reluctant to talk.

As a mother what can one do? The most important thing would be to help her feel comfortable about her body. Explain to her that everybody goes through the same things, maybe at different times. If she is worried about any aspect of her appearance, first acknowledge her concerns, and then reassure her that however one is, one must feel good about her own body. It is more important to be healthy and fit than be fair or possess an hourglass figure.

Say what you may, your daughter may continue to feel self conscious and inferior, but knowing that you understand and empathize will go a long way in building a positive body image.