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Am I Normal? Exploring Preteens' Personal Concerns about Puberty

by Pamela M. Wilson

This month's learning activity includes the following sections:

Introduction

Sexuality education for preadolescents should provide opportunities for them to talk about any concerns regarding their growth and development as they enter puberty. Some preadolescents may be worried because they are developing too quickly or too slowly. Others may actually live with the fear that some aspect of their body's size, shape or function is abnormal.

This activity gives participants an anonymous way of voicing their issues and getting both factual information and reassurance without ever having to own a particular concern.

Purpose

This group activity is designed to help preadolescents identify common concerns about their changing bodies and changing lives. It also allows them to recognize the normal variation in shape, form and rate of development of their bodies, in general, and sexual organs, specifically. The ultimate goal of the activity is to provide reassurance to preteens who often have genuine worries about their development.

Time

45 minutes

 

Materials

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Procedure

Explain that this activity explores the way young people feel about their changing bodies and changing feelings as they go through puberty. To set the stage, read four or five of the following letters from young teens. (Note: The first three letters come from The New Teenage Body Book, 1992) Choose, adapt or create letters that you think are especially appropriate for your group's level of maturity. If you think your group would be willing, invite a few volunteers to do the reading.


  1. "Is it normal for the circle around the nipple to be brown instead of pink? And what's inside my breasts? Do breasts have muscles?"
    — Wondering


    "I'm short and I hate it! Both of my parents are tall. They're both over six feet tall, in fact. And here I am only five feet three. I'm fourteen already! What makes it really bad is that I haven't had much development either, so I look like a kid and people tease me all the time, especially the other guys. How can I start growing?"
    — Ted


    "Help! I'm a 15-year-old girl who is HAIRY! I have hair on my chin and a few hairs around the nipples of my breasts. The hair on my chin really looks awful. What can I do about it? My mom says it runs in the family. Help!"
    — Maria G.


    "I'm not circumcised, and I hate taking a shower in gym because my penis looks different from most of the other boys. I have also noticed that I am having trouble pulling my foreskin all the way back to wash underneath. I haven't told anyone yet because it's kind of embarrassing. What should I do?"
    — Jonathan


    "I'm just 10 years old, but I already wear a 34B, and I started my period last year. I hated being away at camp last summer because none of the other girls had started their periods yet. People always think that I am older than I am and boys follow me around like dogs. Sometimes I like the way I look and other times I just want to be a little kid again. Why did this happen to me?"
    — Clara


    "I am a 13-year-old boy, and I already feel pretty sure that I am gay. When I hear other boys talking about girls, how cute so and so is, and how they would like to do it with her, I just don't get it. I don't have any of those feelings, not at all. Well I do have the feelings but they are for boys, not girls. There is a boy in my gym class that I always hang around with, and I would love to get together with him. I don't really have a problem with my feelings, but I get pretty scared when I read about some gay kid getting beaten up or I hear a member of my family tell a fag joke."
    — Allen


    "I am going to tell you something that I have never talked about before. Sometimes at night, I reach under my nightgown and touch my clitoris. It feels great, but I sometimes feel kind of bad and guilty afterward. I always do it in secret when I know my parents are asleep or in another part of the house. I know that boys jerk off sometimes, but what about girls? Nobody ever talks about it."
    — Shelley

  2. Give some time to allow group members to react to the readings. Ask what advice they might give to any of the young teens. Provide information as required.

  3. Then ask group members to think about worries and concerns kids their age have about the way their bodies look. Distribute index cards and give the following instructions for the activity:

    • Don't put your name on this card. The information on the cards will be anonymous. Explain what the word "anonymous" means, if necessary.

    • On one side of the card, write down one worry that young people of your gender have about the way their bodies look. Label this side of the card "A."

    • On the other side of the card (labeled "B"), write down a worry or concern that you think the other gender has.

    • Identify your gender by putting an M (male) or an F (female) on side A of the card and circling it.

  4. When participants have finished, collect the cards, shuffle them, and redistribute them randomly. (Note: If you have any concerns about group members' ability to read or write, collect the cards and read them yourself.) Going around the room, ask participants to read the author's gender, and then the comments written on side A of the card. List the concerns on newsprint.

  5. Now ask participants to turn their cards over and read side B. List the concerns on newsprint. When all the cards have been read, ask participants the following questions as appropriate:

    • What do you think about these lists of concerns?

    • How correct were the boys in guessing the girls' concerns? How correct were the girls in guessing the boys' concerns?

    • Are the concerns similar or different? How?

    • If you had a friend who came to you with one of these concerns, what would you tell him/her?

  6. As the discussion proceeds, be prepared to give reassuring information such as:

    • It's normal at this stage of development to have worries and concerns because everything is changing so rapidly. Young people tend to feel better about their bodies and their feelings in their later teens.

    • Media messages encourage us to feel insecure about our bodies. Advertisers encourage insecurities because they want us to buy products that are supposed to make us "look better."

    • Pay special attention to comments that point to unhappiness with physical appearance related to race, ethnicity or disability. Point out that certain features like fine hair texture, light skin color, and being able-bodied are considered more "beautiful" by our society, and that this ideal creates insecure and unhappy feelings inside people who don't fit this mold.

Summary

End the activity by asking a few volunteers to tell the group what points from today's activity had the biggest impact on them. Encourage the youth to remember the facts that they heard today and to pass the information on to friends who might share any of the worries or concerns expressed here today. Remind them that "normal" is very individual and there is a tremendous amount of variation in human bodies and feelings, not only at puberty, but throughout our lifetimes. Explain that without these unique human differences, people would be pretty boring.


Pam Wilson PhotoAbout the Author
Pamela Wilson, MSW, is a nationally known sexuality education consultant and trainer. She has written or co-authored numerous curricula and other publications, including, When Sex is the Subject: Attitudes and Answers for Young Children and a new curriculum, Our Whole Lives: Sexuality Education for Grades 7-9. She is also featured in the sexuality education videos Raising Healthy Kids: Families Talk About Sexual Health. Pam can be reached at pwilson@npcl.org.


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