What’s Up Down There? The TWEEN Years

I’ve been fielding questions from tweens and their mothers as part of a corporate spokesperson role with UbyKotex, and for those of you with tween girls, I thought I’d share what has come up!

I am getting pimples, crying for no reason A LOT, have hair under my arms and started discharging last summer, my body is ready but my period hasn’t come, is there a timetable?

Every girl going through puberty is SO different that there’s really no set timetable. Usually, once you start getting signs of puberty like acne, mood swings, underarm hair or pubic hair, or breast development, your period will follow within a year or two. But if your body is taking its own good slow molasses time, don’t worry.

I know how frustrating it can be, especially if your friends are developing and getting their periods. Trust me — I feel you, sister. I remember how anxious I was to get my period because I felt so uncool and immature when my friends were developing earlier than me. But try to be patient and trust that your time will come. It’s normal to be as old as 16 when your period first starts, so as long as you’re younger than that, try to just relax and let it happen. If you’re older than 16 and still haven’t gotten your period, see your doctor.

I’m 12, and I get so emotional sometimes that I just hate it. Is there something I can do to help this?

Feeling deep emotions is completely normal for someone your age. Not only are your hormones raging, but you’re growing up, and with that comes new responsibilities, challenges, physical developments, relationships, and other stuff that may stress you out. My mother called my 12th year my “door-slamming year.” Apparently, I slammed a whole lot of doors. And then when I turned 13, it just magically stopped. I said, “Mom, you’ve turned so much nicer,” and she just rolled her eyes. Like “Uh, honey — it’s not me, it’s you!”

If your emotions are swirling all month long, the best thing you can do is give yourself permission to feel your feelings. Cry if you feel sad. Get a pillow and smack it if you feel angry. Laugh if you feel joyful. Trying to hide our feelings only makes them worse. So feel them — and then communicate about them. Talk to your Mom, your BFF, or a therapist if you need one.

If your emotional swings only come before your period, talk to your doctor. It could be PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and there are natural remedies, as well as prescription treatments, that can help.

I just started my period, and I’m freaking out that I might get symptoms like this every month. Cramps, moodiness, headaches — will it last forever? Or will I ever get a break?

Most women have the roughest time with their periods at the extremes of reproductive age — meaning they suffer most during puberty and then again in peri-menopause. Usually, after the first couple years, periods get easier, and the cramps, moodiness, and headaches lighten or even go away completely.

But not always. Some women experience these kinds of symptoms every month.

I can see you rolling your eyes, like, “Ugh! Why do I have to go through this?” You might even be wishing you weren’t born a girl. And I understand how you might feel frustrated to imagine that you might have to deal with this for decades. I remember being a child and getting so annoyed that I would have to swallow my spit every few minutes of every day for the rest of my life. (Okay, maybe that was just me.)

But remember, it’s a blessing being a woman. We get to bring new life into the world. We get to feel deeply. We have the pleasure of bonding with other women, being super creative, knowing how to love and nurture deeply, and being forces of peace in the world. Your period is just a monthly reminder that you might one day be a Mama, and that even if you choose not to have children, that potential to create can be used in many other gorgeous ways.

If the symptoms are severe, talk to your doctor. Things like ibuprofen — or in more severe cases, birth control pills — can relieve many of your symptoms.

We are going on a cruise next month and my biggest fear is that my daughter will start menstruating during our vacation, which will cause misery because she is a water rat. I believe she is too young for tampons — is there an alternative or an appropriate age to begin using tampons?

The right time for a girl to start using tampons is whenever she’s ready — which might be at 10 and might not happen until she’s 20. When I first started my period, I wore this giant squishy diaper pad for all of six hours before insisting to my mother that she rush out and buy me tampons. So how did my experiment with tampons go? It wasn’t pretty. Suffice it to say that after three hours, a floor length mirror, and a whole box of tampons, I had to ask my mother to come in and help me insert it. But after she taught me how to use the tampons, I was so much happier.

While they won’t solve the water rat problem, the good news is that UbyKotex now makes these awesome skinny, hip, tween-sized pads and liners just for girls who are just starting their period. So at least she won’t have to suffer through the squishy diaper. But if your daughter wants to try tampons and you feel comfortable with it, offer to help her get her first one in. Try using a good lubricant like Astroglide or coconut oil to make it go in easier. And talk to her about how she feels about tampons.

Some mothers worry their daughters will lose their virginity if they wear tampons, but that’s not the case. While tampons may disrupt the hymen, you’re still a virgin until you have sexual intercourse, so no need to worry about that.

If your daughter is resistant to tampons, then you’ll just have to take your chances. Hopefully, her first period will wait until after vacation. Otherwise, buy her a good book and make sure to communicate that becoming a woman is something to celebrate, even if it gets in the way of your vacation.

When do I start taking my child to a gynecologist?

According to new guidelines, your daughter won’t need her first Pap smear until she’s 21, but she’ll likely need a gynecologist long before that. I recommend that women bring their daughter to the gynecologist when she begins her period. Unless there’s a problem, I won’t put the girl through an uncomfortable exam. But that way, we can have a conversation about what is and isn’t normal with a girl’s period, how to make periods more comfortable, and whether she should get the HPV vaccine to prevent abnormal Pap smears in the future. Plus, I give the girl my card so she knows she can reach me if she has questions she doesn’t want to ask her mother or needs birth control or sexually transmitted disease testing.

While I encourage every young girl to be honest and open with her mother, I think it’s also important that every girl has at least one adult woman she can talk to who isn’t her mom. For many of my patients, that woman is me. Bringing your daughter to the gynecologist when she’s young sets the stage for an open, honest relationship with a gynecologist you trust, so she can take care of her feminine body in an empowered way.

After that, she need not come every year, but if she’s bleeding very heavily, experiencing severe cramps, throwing up with periods, skipping periods beyond the first year, or having other gynecologic issues, I like to take a gander. Basically, err on the side of bringing her too often. It’s always good to touch base and raise a girl to nurture her beautiful body.

Have you Moms had to deal with this? Any guidance for those of us with younger children? DISH, you hot Mama!

Empowering girls as your Girlfriend MD,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.commotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.



Elena T.
Elena Poensgen4 years ago

Thank you :)

Michele Wilkinson

Good advice here.

sandra m.
Past Member 6 years ago

Good informational article.

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

Thanks, good info.

My mother didn't take me to a gynecologist... I actually had to see a primary, when I was in college.

This is one of those times I'm glad I have a boy. We've had a couple of talks already, and will have another one soon.

Kirsten B.
Past Member 6 years ago

Thank you for all this advice, I'm going to stock it up for when I'll be needing it ... in about 6 or 7 years.

Hilary C
Hb C6 years ago

You may want to consider that not all girls are excited about puberty. The physical changes we go through are purely that- physical. To tie these changes, which are beyond our control, to aspects of cultural "womanhood" that girls may never have considered may make some feel embarrassed and defiant, as if cultural expectations are now taking over in others' perceptions of them, rather than who they are as people. This was the case for me. I would have preferred to be given facts, and never have heard anyone extrapolate about aspects of culturally-conceived "womanhood" that (still) have nothing to do with who I am.

Bekie Y.
Bekie Y.6 years ago

My girls are still young (8 and 3), but when they start showing signs of puberty I intend to supply them with a care package of reusable organic cotton pads and a menstrual cup. At the same time, I will give them a demonstration of how to use each of the products. I hope that in giving them access to and knowledge of these things early on, they will be better prepared than I was when I first got my period. My mother left me completely in the dark on the whole subject. I had to learn what was happening and how to care for myself from a teacher in my middle school.

Gordana Roljic
Gordana Roljic6 years ago