Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

These days, girls are maturing earlier

April 17, 2013

Q. Is it weird that I started my period and I’m only in third grade? I was scared. I told my mom, and she kind of freaked out. She said she was upset because she didn’t talk with me about it first because I just turned 9. It was mom’s idea to write to you. She said to tell you “hi.” I guess you taught her how to have babies when she had my big brother. She said that if I wrote to you and asked you to put my questions in the newspaper you would. That way maybe other girls like me would know, you know? So here goes. I have three questions. 1. Why did I start my period so early? My mom took me to the pediatrician, and he says I’m OK. But then, why? 2. Why don’t any of my friends have their periods? 3. How long is this mess going to last? Like my mom still has periods, and she’s old. This is my third month, and I’m tired of this. Thank you. – 9-year-old female

Mary Jo’s response: I love your questions! Not only are they great questions, but they also made me smile. You sound like you have a good sense of humor. I also think your mom is great. Tell her I said “hi” and I’m pleased she remembered me.

I’ll answer Question 1 first, OK? Nope, it’s not weird. Do you remember when Shrek said that ogres are onions? Do you know what he meant? He meant that there are lots of layers to an ogre. You don’t know everything about an ogre when you first meet one. Every ogre is different. People are like onions, too. We have layers and layers, and we are all very different. You’re not your mom, although you might be like her in some ways. You also may be like your dad or your grandparents or even that big brother. The word genetics refers to the parts of us that we inherit from our family. Genetics is one part of why you started your period.

If each of us is different, then each girl and woman is different. Puberty is the time when girls grow to become women and boys grow to become men. Starting periods (another name for periods is menstruation) is a big part of puberty for girls. You started your period, and puberty began for you when the time was right for your body. That time is OK. It’s normal (OK) for you.

A long, long time ago, women started their periods much later than today’s girls. Even when I was a girl (which was a while ago, but not a long, long time ago), girls were usually older than third grade when they started. There are lot of theories (ideas) about why puberty is starting earlier, but no one knows for sure. Puberty is happening earlier for boys, too, although boys do not have periods.

One idea is that girls are heavier. Some girls are weighing more, and one of the hormones connected to puberty (estrogen) is higher when a person weighs more. But many thin girls are starting puberty early. Some people think that chemicals in food or in packaging may be changing hormones for girls. Hormones are chemicals in the body. Estrogen is a hormone.

No matter what causes earlier puberty, it’s happening. One thing that affects puberty is a person’s race. In 2010, people did a study (which means they did scientific research) and looked at different ages for the start of puberty. They researched girls at the age of 7 – two years younger than you are now. You may be surprised when you see the numbers. At 7, 10 percent of white girls, 15 percent of Hispanic girls and 23 percent of black girls had started puberty. You are not alone.

Question 2: You may not know if your friends have started menstruating. As girls grow older, they seem to share their periods with one another. Girls your age may be shy and feel strange talking about it. You should always, always talk with your mom, even if it feels weird to bring up a subject, and not just about puberty and periods. What if you hear a “dirty” joke on the bus? Most people don’t understand such jokes at some point in their lives. Go home and ask your mom what the joke means. She may get a little embarrassed, but your parent is the right person to ask. The same is true for words you don’t understand. Even if the words are words you know are wrong to say, you can ask your mom or a trusted adult.

Question 3 is the one that made me smile. I know you’re not alone in this feeling. Many, many girls get tired of having periods. Women have periods until menopause. Menopause usually happens when a woman is between the ages of 40 and 58 (but can happen as early as the late 30s and as late as the 60s). Sorry. Having your period is a sign of good health and shows that your body is working … even if women don’t always enjoy menstruating.

Thanks for the great questions. Thanks for your courage. I know that you’d be a great peer educator one day. Let’s talk when you’re in high school. Keep on talking with your mom. As your body looks more and more like a teen, you may notice that people pay attention to the way you look. Please tell your mom if you like someone or if someone notices you in a dating/relationship way. Your body may be growing to become a woman, but your mind is still 9. Your mom can help you understand your new feelings.


I have two huge shout-outs:

1. Much gratitude to the many people in our community who voted for our IKEA grant. I’m so touched and thrilled. One of our young people has announced he will make brownies every day as soon as we have our kitchen.

2. Thank you to the Washington Health System for honoring our 25 years as an outreach at their annual ball April 6. Special thanks to Gary Weinstein (CEO), Rich Mahoney (executive director of the Washington Hospital Foundation) and his wonderful team, and gratitude to all who attended and made the evening so special for us.

We are so blessed.



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