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Parents, please start talking to your kids about periods as early as humanly possible

Parents, please start talking to your kids about periods as early as humanly possible
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Some parents are taking issue with "Turning Red" talking about periods.

Let's talk about periods.

Some parents have taken issue with the Pixar movie "Turning Red" for several scenes in which the subject of a 13-year-old getting her period—even though she didn't, actually—is discussed and used for humor. There's nothing graphic in any way, unless you consider seeing boxes of menstrual pads graphic, but some parents thought that menstruation itself was an inappropriate topic for young kids.

I'm a fan of letting parents parent. None of us has a manual for this stuff and it's hard to know if you're making the right choices for your kids. Different families have different priorities, values and beliefs, and I think there are a million ways to raise conscientious, contributing humans.

I'm also a fan of choosing age-appropriate content for kids when it comes to things that they're not ready to process yet. My kids are teens and young adults now, but when they were younger I was picky about what they consumed media-wise. There is some content young kids simply aren't ready to process and that can have a negative impact on their developing psyches, which is why sex and violence are screened for in age-based movie and TV ratings.

Periods, however, are an entirely different story.


I genuinely don't understand why anyone would take issue with any child of any age learning about menstruation. It's a basic bodily function of half the population. Kids start learning about basic bodily functions as soon as they are old enough to ask questions, and there's nothing about having a period that necessitates holding off on the basics until they're a certain age or maturity level.

Both girls and boys need to learn about periods, and the earlier the better.

I have two daughters and a son. My boy is my youngest, and he's grown up in a household that has talked about periods from the time he was old enough to understand words. When he got old enough to ask what we were referring to or what pads were for, I explained the basics to him in a way he could understand. It went something like this:

"Every month, a woman's body practices getting ready to grow a baby. She has organs called ovaries that push out an egg and her uterus makes a nice cushy home for it by building up a lining of blood. After a couple of weeks, her body lets go of the egg and dismantles the home, which then comes out of her vagina. The bleeding isn't from an injury and it doesn't hurt—it just drips out for a few days. So women wear pads/tampons/cups. etc. to catch it so the blood doesn't get all over her clothes."

Simple, basic, honest. When he has questions, I answer them matter-of-factly. My philosophy is that if a child is old enough to ask a question, they're old enough to get a simple, basic, honest answer. If they want or need to know more, they'll ask more questions. If there are parts that I'm really not ready for them to get details on, I'll say, "That part is a little complicated and we can learn about that later, but here's what's important for you to know right now."

I've also learned that it's far preferable to have these conversations when a child is old enough to be curious but not old enough to be embarrassed to ask.

Periods aren't a picnic, but we've got to stop avoiding talking about them due to the "ick" factor.

I'm not someone who waxes poetic about menstruation. I understand there are women who find deeper meaning and beauty and magic in it, and hey, more power to them. For me, it's just a thing that happens every month—I don't love it, I don't hate it, it just is.

I do think, however, that we need to get away from the idea that it's "gross" or "disgusting" or "inappropriate." Again, it's something half the population experiences. It's not necessarily pretty, but it's not like it's dirty or wrong or shameful. Women have been ostracized from society in various cultures throughout history for having their period—something that automatically happens to their bodies every month. Treating menstruation in general as gross or inappropriate simply adds to the idea that it's taboo.

We need to talk about periods when kids—girls and boys—are young, because periods can start really young.

I have a friend whose daughter was 9 years old when she started her period. Another friend recently told me her daughter just started her period, and she's only 8. It happens. It's not as unusual as we think. Very few families are running around announcing publicly that their under-10-year-old has started menstruating. So it's definitely important to normalize the conversation early and often with our kids.

And yes, that includes our boys. It's shocking how little some men understand about this topic, even as grown adults. There's no magical time when it suddenly becomes appropriate to talk about periods, and if we make it a normal part of conversation, it's not nearly as awkward for us or for them. In our household, having two daughters first helped create more opportunities, but even in families with all boys, moms can be open about being on their period so it's not a hush-hush or unfamiliar subject.

I often think about the story of the teen boy who noticed a younger student had had a period accident on the bus, and how he offered her his sweatshirt to wrap around her waist. When she thanked him, he said, "No problem. I have sisters." That's a guy for whom periods had been normalized and who was comfortable enough to do the exact right thing to help a girl avoid potential embarrassment rather than adding to it.

A movie about a 13-year-old girl that includes mention of periods is simply reflective of reality. Parents might debate the way a character's behavior or the dynamics of parental relationships are portrayed in "Turning Red," but menstruation should really be a nonissue regardless of the age or gender of the kids watching.

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