Emily Oster

14 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

Let’s Talk Puberty

Supporting Our Kids Through the Cringe

Emily Oster

14 min Read

Puberty. We all go through it, and… no one really loves every minute of it. You come out on the other side relieved that you do not have to relive it again. Except that now you’re a parent! So you do! Only this time, you’re worried about getting it right, not just getting to the other side. Which is why I couldn’t be more excited that for the ParentData podcast out today, I talked to Cara Natterson and Vanessa Kroll Bennett about their new book, This Is So Awkward: Modern Puberty Explained. This conversation has tons of helpful advice (as does the book), and we also get into answering the age-old question of why I still have hairy knees.

To spark your interest, here are a few highlights from today’s conversation: 

Why did you write this book?

Emily Oster: 

I actually want to start by telling you what happened when I gave [your book] to my spouse. I do not usually make him read books, because he is an extremely slow reader. And also before your book, the last thing he read was a history of the German central bank and it took him eight months. But I made him read the book. 

And at some point, he said, “Oh, I get it. The core advice in this book is to have a good relationship with your kids so they will talk to you.” Which I actually thought was pretty insightful. Do you think that he’s right about that?

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Ultimately, I think he is right. There’s 100,000 other words in the book that get at a variety of biology and physiology and data and research. But really, the best way to keep kids healthy and safe is to be in conversation with them, have lines of communication with them, and that means giving them good, reliable information. That’s part of it. It’s not just chatting. It’s giving them good information that can help inform their choices, their life, their growing up.

Cara Natterson:

And if you have a good relationship with them, that’s a bonus. That’s the goal and that’s the hope. And we believe that the more honestly you speak with them, the better the relationship will be. 

How do I talk to my teen about their body hair?

Vanessa:

We want to make room for all of the options and present a panoply of hair decisions, because the whole point of this entire exercise is to remove shame and judgment and let kids figure out what feels good and right to them. And by the way, social mores have completely shifted. My 13-year-old turned to me the other day and was like, “So when do I get my first manscaper?” And I was like, “Um, excuse me?”

Emily:

What’s that?

Vanessa:

Oh, you don’t know it. Okay. So a manscaper, it’s basically a trimmer for genital hair, for vulvas or around penises and testicles, but it’s a “manscaper” because it was marketed specifically to people with penises and testicles, because people with penises and testicles remove much or maybe all of their pubic hair in the way that many women have done for many, many decades. So this is not even a gendered thing. They also shave their legs. They shave their arms. They have their backs waxed. It is not gendered. Everybody is removing lots and lots of hair and then deciding to grow lots of hair in certain places. I don’t know if I can use this term, but what we used to call … a full bush. And then—

Emily:

1980s. Ladies at the pool clubs coming out from outside your bathing suits. It’s like that’s what you’re doing there.

Vanessa:

The YMCA. It’s my best memory of the YMCA. Or they grow all their armpit hair and they remove all their pubic hair. It’s like the mores of what we expected have gone out the window. 

And so it’s not just being like, here’s the right razor. It’s opening your mind up to [the fact that] the world and our culture has completely changed around hair.

What’s the best way to make my teen feel safe?  

Emily:

So you’ve said limits make teens feel safe. That seems like a familiar statement for parenting smaller kids. So is my teenager basically just a big 3-year-old?

Vanessa:

I think that there’s an impulsiveness and questionable decision-making. There’s a moodiness that feels reminiscent. There’s a desire to establish independence and to separate themselves from their parents and their trusted adults that is all very resonant of toddler years. It’s also a time where you have to say, “Listen, I’m going to give you some choice. I’m also going to lay down some parameters. And within those parameters, I’m going to give you a lot of decision-making opportunity and a lot of power and a lot of agency. And outside of that, you get what you get and you don’t get upset, or maybe you do get upset. But tough, kiddo.” And I think that that is really critical.

Cara talks about how teens actually want limits and they want parameters, and they don’t want us to be their friends. And even though it would be easier to roll over and make a joke out of it, just like with your toddler, when you did that, you were also up till midnight with a screaming kid who refused to go to bed, and we know how that sucked. So think of the teen equivalent of that with much higher stakes and much more discomfort, and that’s what you end up with. So it’s really best for everyone involved if they have some limits.

Cara:

When I used to be in the office, one of the most common pieces of advice I would give for parents of toddlers and kindergarten-age kids all the way up through grammar school, frankly, is mentally, in the back of their minds, pretend like your kid is 16 and asking for the car keys. Are you going to give them the car keys? And the answer is generally no, I’m not, actually. So those are the same touchpoints you can lean on throughout their entire growth and development trajectory in order to gauge your own limit setting. If you’re ready to hand them complete and utter independence, then don’t give them rules, don’t set limits, be hands-off, but that’s not what they need. And you know that and they know that.

There are great therapists out there who use the analogy of: you wouldn’t let your kid fly the plane. They’re interested in looking in the cockpit, but you’re not going to let them fly the plane. So it’s all part and parcel of the same thing. And this is what makes child-rearing hard. And child-rearing in 2023, and it’s only going to get worse, is the co-parents in the equation include the internet. So this is very complicated stuff. I will say it until I’m blue in the face: Kids of all ages tell us they like limits. Limits make them feel safe. They are guardrails that are supposed to be tested and they’re supposed to be pushed against, but they make kids feel safe.


Full transcript

This transcript was automatically generated and may contain small errors.

Emily Oster:

Vanessa, Cara, I’m very happy you’re here. Could you please introduce yourselves?

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

I will go first. My name is Vanessa Bennett. I live in the state of New York. I have four children. I talk about puberty all day, every day. I just talk a lot in general.

Emily Oster:

Amazing. Cara.

Cara Natterson:

My name is Cara Natterson. I am a pediatrician turned puberty expert, I suppose. I don’t love the word expert, but my whole life is dedicated to flipping puberty positive with the most upbeat and verbose and wise person I know, Vanessa Bennett. And I’ve written a bunch of books and I like to create content mostly from the mouths of the tweens and teens who we are trying to represent in the world.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Do I get a do-over?

Emily Oster:

No.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Because Cara did a really professional one.

Emily Oster:

You don’t. But Cara’s was so great. So thanks, Cara. We are here to talk about your newish book, which is called This is So Awkward, which is I would say a guide for parents through puberty, and I love it. I write mostly about little kids. I do not envy you working with this age. I parent this age and it’s extremely difficult. And I’m grateful that your book is there. And I want to talk about some of the details, but I actually want to start by telling you what happened when I gave it to my spouse. I do not usually make him read books because he is an extremely slow reader. And also before your book, the last thing he read was a history of the German Central Bank and took him eight months. And he would tell me these facts.

He’d be like, “Did you know?” And then I’d be like, “I didn’t know.” And I’m not using that information now. But I made him read the book. And at some point he said, “Oh, I get it. The core advice in this book is to have a good relationship with your kids so they will talk to you.” Which I actually thought was pretty insightful. Do you think that he’s right about that?

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Yeah. Ultimately, I think he is right. There’s 100,000 other words in the book that get at a variety of biology and physiology and data and research. But really, the best way to keep kids healthy and safe is to be in conversation with them, have lines of communication with them and that means giving them good, reliable information. That’s part of it. It’s not just chatting. It’s giving them good information that can help inform their choices, their life, their growing up.

Cara Natterson:

Yeah. And if you have a good relationship with them, that’s a bonus. And that’s the goal and that’s the hope. And we believe that the more honestly you speak with them, the better the relationship will be. But the part that he distilled down to about have a good relationship with them and communicate with them, it’s two separate thoughts. And it’s communicate with them first, I think, and then the good relationship will follow, we hope.

Emily Oster:

And when you say communicate, you mean communicate about these big things? You mean communicate about little things?

Cara Natterson:

Oh, Emily, we mean don’t stop talking. We really do. The whole concept of the talk that was what we grew up with, we are flipping that entirely on its head. We are not alone in this. Educators have been doing this for decades. Health care providers have been doing this for decades. It is many, many, many talks about many, many, many different things of all different lengths and intensities at all different moments in time. We’re believers in over communication, as our children will tell you and there’s a gift to that.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

And it’s also about listening and knowing when to shut your mouth.

Cara Natterson:

Well, that’s true.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Communication is often, with the kids this age, less … The talking is important or giving information in a variety of different ways. But it’s a lot about just being quiet. Being present and being available, but being quiet and listening. And sometimes it’s zipping it in the most uncomfortable of ways.

Emily Oster:

It is the most uncomfortable. I think that’s part of the thing that I think many people find so hard is when your kid comes with a problem, sometimes you just want to fix it. As soon as they got it out of their mouth, you’re like, “I got that one. That one happened to … I’ll tell you what happened and I’ll fix it for you now.” And they’re like halfway into the story. You’re like, “Let me stop you about how to fix it.” But actually, it’s not what they’re looking for.

Cara Natterson:

No. No. They’re not looking for a tactician, right? And that’s what we-

Emily Oster:

They’re not looking for a tactician. That’s very well put.

Cara Natterson:

That makes us feel so good because number one, we know exactly how to fix the problem 80% of the time, right? And number two, we are so sure that even if we don’t know how to fix the problem, just trying to fix the problem helps towards fixing the problem. And that’s not what they’re looking for. As Vanessa tells me all the time, sometimes they just want to dump on you. They want to dump and then they want to leave the room and then they are good. They’re done.

Emily Oster:

Yeah.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

It’s like if we fix it for them, then they never learn how to fix it. And then they’re 45 and God willing, we’re 90 and we’re still helping them solve the minutia of their day. And our whole job is to help them grow up. And in order to grow up, they got to fix their stuff. They got to handle their stuff. They got to live through the uncertainty. And so it’s like, yeah, we support them. Yeah. I will say, “Do you want me to give you advice or do you just want me to sit here and listen?” And you actually just did one, those empathic murmurs. The aw. Mm-hmm. Oh, yeah. You get really good at those when you’re raising adolescents and it feels disingenuous, I know it does, but it works. It does work. And they really appreciate it when we can figure out when to just be there and back off and be supportive.

Emily Oster:

Yeah. It’s very hard. What’s interesting is that I think that I complain about my partner trying to fix things. This is the opposite relationship I have with my partner where I’ll be like, actually, I was just looking to complain. I wasn’t looking for a tactic there. I just wanted to complain about it. But then when my kid does it, I’m just right into tactics.

Cara Natterson:

Right. Isn’t that just human nature though?

Emily Oster:

That is just human nature. Okay. I want to get into the details because actually part of what’s great about this book is it’s really science, biology based. You know that that’s my love language. Data, science. And so it’s awesome. And let’s talk a little bit about the early puberty piece. One of the things I hear people talking about, being concerned about, wondering about is the idea that kids are starting puberty earlier than they used to. Is that true? How much earlier and why?

Cara Natterson:

Oh my God. I’m so excited to get into data with you.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Cara has the biggest smile on her face. She’s like whoopee.

Cara Natterson:

This is like a dream. I’m living the dream right now. Okay. The answer is yes and no. It has changed from generations ago. Over the last two, three, four generations, it has certainly shifted. But the data that we lean on in our book and in every piece of teaching that we do is actually not new data. Between 1997 and 2012 is when all this data was really collected. And so we are looking at something that we’re calling new that’s really somewhere between 15 and 25 years old. But here’s what that data showed. And can I give you a super top line history lesson?

Emily Oster:

Yeah. Totally.-

Cara Natterson:

It won’t be the German banks, I promise. Okay. In 1997, there was this nurse practitioner. Her name was Marcia Herman-Giddens. She was practicing in North Carolina and she saw all of these girls coming through her clinic who were in puberty earlier than they were supposed to be. And supposed to was defined by a guy named James Tanner. In the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s, he did this big study in London. He looked at pictures of kids who were living in orphanages post-war, and he determined when the onset of puberty was. And it was supposed to be 11 for girls and 11 and a half for boys, according to Tanner. And that’s what it was until in ’97, Herman-Giddens publishes this study of 17,000 girls. It was funded by the AAP. It was the first big piece of data that showed no, no, no. Things had moved back. And instead of 11, girls were entering puberty at 10. And it was defined by breast budding. And this is an important side note that we’ll get to, I’m sure, in a little bit.

Now, flash forward to 2005 when an endocrinologist named Louise Greenspan joins a study that’s going to confirm Marcia Herman-Giddens’ data, because doctors love to do that. They love to take a study that was novel and say, is it true or is it not? And they studied this cohort between 2005 and 2010. And what do they find? They find that, lo and behold, girls are entering puberty even earlier. And that’s the data that we point to. It’s Greenspan’s data. And what it showed was the average age for entering puberty. And it was broken out by race and the racial groupings are very limited. It’s Caucasian or white, black and Hispanic is the language that they used. And it was onset of puberty for girls was between eight and nine. And if you were black, it was on the younger side and if you were Caucasian or white, it was on the later side, it was the nine. And if you were Hispanic, Latina, it was in the middle. No one looked at boys.

Herman-Giddens is gardening. She’s retired. She’s having a great life. She’s so frustrated by the fact that no one’s looking at boys that in 2012, she pulls herself out of retirement, does a small study of 4,000 boys and she says, “Ha. Boys are going through puberty early too.” And for them, she documents it’s between nine and 10 when they’re starting. That is measured by penile and testicular growth. And again, she used the same racial groupings and found the same trends. So when we say puberty is starting earlier, this is precisely what we mean. We mean that the average age of breast budding for girls in this country is now between eight and nine. And the average age of penile and testicular growth for boys is between nine and 10. But it’s not going any faster. It is actually going slower.

Emily Oster:

When you say going slower, you mean from that first moment to what we consider the end.

Cara Natterson:

Yep. Because when you’re in it … We like to use periods as a really healthy middle marker of like, how’s puberty progressing, right? And when you’re in it, you would think if we’ve rolled back the start time of entering puberty by two to three years, we should roll back the first period by two to three years and lo and behold, that is not what has happened. We have rolled back the onset of the first period by two to three months. So the bottom line is that it starts earlier and it goes slower. It’s like taffy.

Emily Oster:

Do we understand why?

Cara Natterson:

I really wanted the title of the book to be Puberty is Like Taffy and no one was into that.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Emily, I knew she was going to work that in the first five minutes. It’s like she can’t help herself.

Emily Oster:

That’s a great title.

Cara Natterson:

Thank you.

Emily Oster:

So why has puberty become more like taffy?

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

There’s a bunch of theories and a variety of factors. There’s not one single answer as to why. We do know that … And I’m going to use a word that I actually don’t feel super great using, but scientists and medical professionals use it. We do know that obesity, childhood obesity is a contributing factor to earlier onset of puberty in girls. Not in boys.

Cara Natterson:

It delays it in boys.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

It delays it in boys because of peripheral fat conversion into estrogen. But yet we’re hearing data that girls who are not obese are seeing earlier puberty and so it’s not necessarily tied. We know that the thousands and thousands of chemicals in our environment are affecting everything, including potentially earlier puberty. And chronic stress. We know that chronic stress in kids can tip some into earlier puberty and for others actually cause their puberty to halt or not begin. And there are other theories and other factors. It’s not that one week last year when you didn’t buy organic milk for your kids that caused them to go into puberty or the non-organic chicken that they ate at the rest stop on the way to grandma’s house. Because people beat themselves up. It’s a much larger, much bigger systemic issue.

Emily Oster:

Also the endocrine system is not our best understood of the systems is my sense.

Cara Natterson:

You have to be so smart to be an endocrinologist.

Emily Oster:

I agree.

Cara Natterson:

I’m just saying that the smartest smarties in med school were endocrinologists and Louise Greensman is an endocrinologist and she’s amazing. And what she swears … I trained with her. She was my resident when I was an intern and then she went on to become all famous and everything. And every four, six weeks, I’m like, “Hi Louise. I have another question.” But she promises that while we have no answer, that puberty is not marching back a whole lot earlier. She said, “We are not going to have kindergartners in puberty.” She believes we have hit a physiologic low with this. And in part, it’s because of this symphony of the endocrine system and all these different parts that have to talk.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

And the other thing, Emily … And this is actually a point I think you’d find super interesting, which is the relationship to zip codes. So kids living in poverty, closer to pollution, with food insecurity, with adults who have job insecurity, with family lives that are tumultuous, there’s all sorts of factors about the stress, about the proximity to pollution that come together. So kids in certain zip codes are more prone to be in earlier puberty.

Cara Natterson:

And can I add one more variable?

Emily Oster:

Yeah.

Cara Natterson:

Antibiotics. There’s a lot of data. And this is Louise’s new soap box that I’m so eager for her to stand on and yell from the rafters. But on one of our podcasts, she started talking about the impact of antibiotics. And it looks like there is a direct connection between antibiotic exposure and earlier puberty, but it’s coming from two sources. It’s coming from over prescription of antibiotics directly to the kids and it is coming from the animal supply. And the animal supply is probably the more significant driver. So Vanessa is right. When you don’t eat the organic chicken, you don’t need to freak out. On the other hand, we really should be looking at this data and making a lot of noise because we need to be shifting the policies around antibiotic use in the food chain.

Emily Oster:

One of the implications of this, you talk some about in the book, is the growing disconnect between physical puberty and emotional maturity. That when girls get breasts sooner, they don’t get judgment sooner and they don’t get the emotional maturity of an adult. And so effectively you have people who look much more like adults, but actually they’re 11 and that has all kinds of implications, some of which are very hard to think about involving sex, but also some of which involve literally just how are adults interacting with you? How are adults engaging with behavioral dysregulation in kids where you look at this person and you look like they’re 15, you think, why are you acting like an 11-year-old? It’s because you are.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

One of our biggest exhortations in the book … Can I use that word in casual conversation?

Emily Oster:

Nice flex.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Thank you. Is for adults. And this is really an adult’s responsibility. Many adult’s responsibilities. This is not on the kids. This is not on the peer group to work super hard to separate how a kid appears versus what their chronological age is. Listen, educators are on the front lines of this. Middle school teachers have kids who literally appear to be six or seven years apart in the way they look, as opposed to the fact that they’re all this just mess inside. Equally messy inside and all of the similar age. It’s on us. And it’s frankly on us as caregivers to advocate for our kids in those situations. So if and when we see other adults, family members, coaches, people on the street treating our kids a lot older than they are, we have to step up because we cannot expect a kid to have that capability immediately.

We can train them. We can help do role play and help them develop the language for that, but it’s not going to happen immediately. And that’s a place where I really believe adults step in.

Emily Oster:

I totally agree. Okay. Can we talk about body hair? Because for me, one of the most interesting things in the book was this disconnect between hair and puberty timing. It’s a whole different system. I thought that was great.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Cara’s second favorite topic.

Cara Natterson:

I love this because I went to medical school, I did residency training and I still didn’t understand it. It took me years to wrap my brain around it so I am on a mission to explain it in a clear way so everyone can understand it.

Emily Oster:

Okay. Here’s your chance.

Cara Natterson:

Here we go.

Emily Oster:

Go.

Cara Natterson:

Buckle up. So when we talk about puberty, in the narrowest definition, puberty is the maturation of the reproductive system. And what that means is the parts in your body that are required to one day potentially make a baby. That’s the path through puberty in its narrowest definition. And the hormones that guide puberty are largely LH and FSH that come from the brain, from the pituitary. They come out of the pituitary and they go to their target organs. If you have testicles, they go to your testicles. If you have ovaries, they go to your ovaries. And those organs make their own hormones. Testicles make testosterone, ovaries make estrogen and progesterone. By the way, everyone has a little of everything because there are other places in the body that make those hormones. Okay. That all works in this very … It’s like one little racecourse. Like F1, they’re racing at Monaco and that’s what that is.

On a separate racecourse, you’ve got the adrenal androgens. The adrenal glands are these little triangular … They look like little hats sitting on top of the kidneys. And they’re these super complicated glands. And their main job is to pump out hormones that guide a number of things, not sexual maturation. So cortisol is released from the adrenal glands. So when we have a stress response. But also DHEA and DHEA-S, which is just the sulfated version of DHEA. DHEA is what goes to your skin cells and tells the sweat glands to amp up the volume of sweat. It also tells the little oil producing gland in your pore to increase the oil production in certain parts of the body that have that capacity. Armpits, groin, feet, scalp. It also tells the hair follicle right there to start to grow a hair that has a new texture or a new color or a new thickness or all of the above.

And so it is the adrenal androgens that go out into the periphery of the body and tell the body to sprout hair, sprout sweat and sprout oil. And now you have an explainer for hair and acne and body odor. And it’s not about testosterone and estrogen, even though those hormones do play a role a little bit, because these are all cousin hormones. They’re like a big family. But they’re not racing at … Got to come up with a different track. In Miami. Does that make sense? And here’s the most important takeaway from that concept. Go back to what Vanessa was saying about people who look older than they are. Put pubic hair on a six-year-old and suddenly parents are rightfully-

Emily Oster:

Freaked out.

Cara Natterson:

Freaked out. Yes. Because they’re thinking their kid’s in puberty. And I’m here to tell you, go see a doctor because maybe they are, but probably they’re not. That is their adrenal androgen starting to kick in. And then you can say, why is that happening? And I can’t answer that question.

Emily Oster:

Right. But I think that’s the thing that really freaks people out because pubic hair on a little kid, it’s freaky for parents.

Cara Natterson:

It is for everyone. For everyone involved. This is so, so, so important. When someone tells you … Vanessa and I try really hard not to use the word normal because the word normal is complicated when it comes to growing up. So what I can tell you is, pubic hair on a six-year-old, it’s not typical, but it is not such an outlier phenomenon that parents need to feel like they’re totally alone on this journey. We get so many emails and DMs and messaging in every way about early pubic hair. It’s probably the most common question we get. That and breast buds showing up on one side. That freaks people out too.

Emily Oster:

Yeah. Your breasts are always a little uneven, right? I feel like mine are still.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

That’s what we tell them.

Cara Natterson:

That’s what we tell them. They don’t talk.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Come sit by me.

Emily Oster:

The hair was interesting, I think for a second reason, which gets to the questions of communication that we were talking about at the beginning, which is like, how do I talk about it? So when I was a kid and I got leg hair, my mother was just like, “Okay. You shave below your knees.” Okay. This is the early 1990s and people, you just shaved below your knees. Shaving above your knees, no one did that. So it was just-

Cara Natterson:

There was a line.

Emily Oster:

Carpet and then your knees. And actually, I still can’t really do my knees. So I’ve like-

Cara Natterson:

Knees are so hard.

Emily Oster:

I moved to the top of the leg. I did adopt that later in college. So now it’s like the top and the bottom, but the knees are really quite-

Cara Natterson:

What do you have like a hair polka dot, Emily?

Emily Oster:

It’s fine. I’m already married and I have children and I’m done. So it’s fine. My husband can deal with the knee hair. If he wants to complain, that’s too bad. I have some things to say as well. Anyway, my question is … This is the kind of conversation I think is hard. Because of course, if you don’t want to shave your legs, fine. I think more people don’t shave your legs, but also, should I be like, it’s a good idea to shave your legs and also your knees? I don’t want her to think there’s something wrong. Help me.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

This is a super, super common question. You are not alone except in the not shaving your knees part, which-

Emily Oster:

I try. It’s just very difficult. Okay.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

You always cut them. I know. You always cut them. What we encourage people to do is to make room for a whole spectrum of options, rather than the way we grew up, which was either this is the way you do it and you do it tomorrow, or we secretly did stuff because no one was talking to us about it. So we went to summer camp and got those pink Bic disposable razors and no shaving cream.

Emily Oster:

No shaving cream. I also did that.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

And it ripped our legs to shreds. I still have scars from the first time I tried to shave my legs at summer camp. So our whole thing … And then there was years when people don’t shave their legs or don’t do anything to the armpit. So we want to make room for all of the options and instead present a panoply of hair decisions, because the whole point of this entire exercise is to remove shame and judgment and let kids figure out what feels good and right to them. And by the way, social mores have completely shifted. My 13-year old turned to me the other day and was like, “So when do I get my first manscaper?” And I was like, “Um, excuse me?”

Emily Oster:

What’s that?

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Oh, you don’t know it. Okay. So a manscaper, it’s basically a trimmer for genital hair, for vulvas or around penises and testicles, but it’s a manscaper because it was marketed specifically to people with penises and testicles because people with penises and testicles remove much or maybe all of their pubic hair in the way that many women have done for many, many decades. So this is not even a gendered thing. They also shave their legs. They shave their arms. They have their backs waxed. It is not gendered. Everybody is removing lots and lots of hair and then deciding to grow lots of hair in certain places. I don’t know if I can use this term, but what we used to call … Oh, Emily, I hope you can cut this if you need to. A full bush. And then-

Emily Oster:

1980s. Ladies at the pool clubs coming out from outside your bathing suits. It’s like that’s what you’re doing there.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

The YMCA. It’s my best memory of the YMCA. Or they grow all their armpit hair and they remove all their pubic hair. It’s like the mores of what we expected have gone out the window. And so it’s not just being like, here’s the right razor. It’s opening your mind up to that the world and our culture has completely changed around hair.

Cara Natterson:

And the question you’re asking about self-esteem and the taking shame away from it is a really important one because the facial mustache or unibrow or combination is the most obvious one that the world sees. And a lot of parents really struggle with, do I tell my kid they have it and offer a way to remove it? And you might be surprised. You can tell a kid they’ve got it and they may look at you and go, uh-huh. They know. It might be a source of pride. And you’re looking at this very wispy mustache going, “Are you kidding me? Don’t you want to remove it?” You’ve got to be very careful because the answer may be no. They may love it.

Emily Oster:

Yeah.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

You can literally just say, “Hey, I noticed there’s new hair on your body. Have you noticed that?” And they can either be like-

Cara Natterson:

But if your child’s like my child, they’d be like, nope.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Yeah. And then you’re like, okay, well, they clearly don’t want to talk about it. And they don’t want to do anything about it. Or they may say, “Yeah, and I don’t know what to do with it.” Or we often hear from parents that their kids have hairier legs before anything else happens. And Cara explained in depth why that is with great joy and glee. So people wonder, my kid wants to shave, is my kid too young? That becomes a thing because it is tied into self-esteem and self-consciousness. While hair is not the most exciting topic, although if you listen to us, you’d think it is the most exciting topic, it can really affect self-esteem. And so it is something you want to be engaged in and in conversation about without dictating or freaking your kid out.

Emily Oster:

Okay. So let’s touch briefly before we end on sex and on talking about sex.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Is there a question mark there? Is it sex question mark, Emily?

Emily Oster:

Sex. There’s one issue that people ask. How do I start these conversations? And I’ve talked about that here before, and there’s a bunch of really great stuff in the book. But that feels to be in some ways more tractable because you can think about it in advance. You can think about a moment that you want to bring it up and how you’re going to talk about it. The thing that’s very hard is when your kid comes home and they say, “Today in the lunchroom, Phil was moving his hand up and down and everyone was laughing. What does that mean? I didn’t get it. What was funny about that?” And you really didn’t prepare for hand jobs and you weren’t going to go into it and you want to be … I was thinking about writing this. I was like, you want to be cool, but you don’t want to be like the cool mom in Mean Girls. You just want to be a little cool. The unexpectedness is hard because sometimes people are like, “I’m not going to talk about that.” But of course, you know, that’s not the right reaction, but at the moment it’s hard to … Or just like, “I don’t know what he was [inaudible 00:29:45].”

Cara Natterson:

Can I start with saying anytime a kid comes home with any version of the Phil statement, you should just immediately take a moment and pat yourself on the back and recognize the winning moment that your kid just described this scenario to you, because that is huge. That is the biggest-

Emily Oster:

And that goes back to this being a person your kid can bring something to and be comfortable with.

Cara Natterson:

But let us be very clear. We are not advocating for people to be their kid’s best friend. That is not what kids want. That is not what kids need. Not in the sex talk and not in any other way. They want parents. Kids tell us they want parents. They may tell you as their parent, they don’t like a limit. Limits keep them feeling safe. Their job is to push against limits and they’re very good at their jobs. Some of them are excellent. But they really, really, really want a parent. So your question about how do you straddle being cool, but still parenting and being able to answer all this … I’ll give you my two cents. I would love Vanessa to chime in. So the first rule we have is never lie. Never lie about a question about your own personal experience and never lie about an answer. If you don’t have an answer at the ready, the best answer is to take a deep breath and say, “That is such a great question that I was not prepared to answer quite yet. Give me a minute or give me an hour and I’m going to get back to you and explain it in the best way I can.” You’ve just bought yourself time and you’re not lying.

Your kids, by the way, be prepared. They will ask about your sexual history. They will ask about your drug and alcohol history. It is a 100% guarantee. So when it’s that set of questions, you need to either be ready with your answer or pull yourself together and give yourself a breather. So when it comes to Phil, first answer might be, “That is such a great question. I need a minute before I can answer and give you all the information.” And here’s the second thing I would do. And this is the most powerful sentence that you can utter as a parent about anything. Get context. So if it’s from out of the blue and if the story is vague and not quite as specific, it’s, “That’s such an interesting question. What made you ask me that?” But with the Phil story, which is very specific, you might say something like, “Okay. Can you give me a little more color? How did it come up? What did the other kids say? I just have to get a sense of the situation.” Mostly to transport yourself back to middle school and have a moment of gratitude that you’re not there all day, every day.

But really, it’s to contextualize what they’re asking. Because, yes, they’re asking very specifically about a hand job, but there may be other questions that they’re asking, too. Or there may be questions they’re not asking. And you’re about to go down a road and give way too much information and they really have a narrow, narrow ask. Where I would start is, “Thank you so much for sharing that with me. That was amazing. I need a minute to collect my thoughts.” Then go find a resource. Whether it’s a person or maybe it’s our book or maybe it’s something else, and go look up some strategies about how to answer this question and go back to them. For me, it’s always not eye to eye. I usually will lay on my kid’s bed and look at the ceiling while they’re facing away from me, because that’s a much easier way to have the conversation and dive into your answer. So Vanessa, you want to pick up? Vanessa has so many more children than I do that she has lots of ways through.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

And they talk about so many inappropriate things at the table. My youngest kid was throwing around the term 69 as a joke for a year before I, the “puberty expert” … Expert is the worst and dumbest term ever when it comes to parenting, because no one is an expert at all. Until I was like, “Hey, dude, what is 69?” And he was like, “I don’t know.” So I turned to his older brother who was in high school and I was like, “Can you explain what 69 is?” And they explained it. My son has never used 69 as a punch line of a joke ever again. I would just say, “Wow. That must have been pretty surprising. What do you imagine Phil was doing? What what do you think was going on there?” Because kids feel this pressure like they’re supposed to know it and they’re supposed to get the joke and they’re supposed to be in on it. But half the time, they’re just faking it because they’re embarrassed to admit when they don’t know.

Emily Oster:

Okay. That’s very helpful.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Author And humor. People feel like these conversations are so serious and you have to have every word chosen purposefully and perfectly. We are all going to mess up and we’re going to mess up over and over and over again because these are the trickiest, some of the most important conversations we’re going to have. And so you just go back and you’re like, “You know when we talked , I blew that and I like made a joke and walked away and never answered your question. Can I get a chance to answer your question now? Because I was really appreciative that you came to me, but I was also super nervous that you asked me a tough question that I was not prepared for.” And kids love that because then they’re in the driver’s seat and they feel heard and they feel seen and we are fallible and there’s nothing better to kids than us being fallible. So with all of this stuff, Emily, it is an opportunity to just come back and say, “Let’s take it again because I have a better answer.”

Cara Natterson:

The other thing I might add, Vanessa, is thank the kid for coming to you instead of going to another kid. Take the opportunity to remind them that sometimes questions can be answered by their friends, but the answer won’t always be exactly accurate because everyone has similar questions and everyone’s got to learn information for a first time. And so if you acknowledge that you are a judgment free zone and you will just give straight information when necessary, you will find that you will become the go to resource. Some parents will be listening to this and they will say, “I am downright never going to be comfortable answering what a hand job is.” That’s okay. Then identify the adult in your kid’s life who will be. And there can be a surrogate to you who is the outsourced person you trust. Little side note. Tell them so that they are prepared, because occasionally your kid may call them with a scenario that they are not expecting.

So if you were not raised to have these conversations and it’s just too far outside your comfort zone, then just find someone who can be the appointed person and you and your kid will have to work on picking that person together. Often they will pick the right person, the person you would have picked. Often they will pick the very wrong person at first and you can guide their choice and maybe have a conversation.

Emily Oster:

So you’ve said limits make teens feel safe. That seems like a familiar statement for parenting smaller kids. So is my teenager basically just a big three-year-old?

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

I think that there’s an impulsiveness and questionable decision making. There’s a moodiness that feels reminiscent. There’s a desire to establish independence and to separate themselves from their parents and their trusted adults that is all very resonant of toddler years. It’s also a time where you have to say, “Listen, I’m going to give you some choice. I’m also going to lay down some parameters. And within those parameters, I’m going to give you a lot of decision making opportunity and a lot of power and a lot of agency. And outside of that, you get what you get and you don’t get upset or maybe you do get upset. But tough, kiddo.” And I think that that is really critical.

Cara talks about how teens actually want limits and they want parameters and they don’t want us to be their friends. And even though it would be easier to roll over and make a joke out of it, just like with your toddler, when you did that, you were also up till midnight with a screaming kid who refused to go to bed and we know how that sucked. So think of the teen equivalent of that with much higher stakes and much more discomfort and that’s what you end up with. So it’s really best for everyone involved if they have some limits.

Cara Natterson:

Yeah. When I used to be in the office, one of the most common pieces of advice I would give for parents of toddlers and kindergarten age kids all the way up through grammar school, frankly, is mentally in the back of their minds, pretend like your kid is 16 and asking for the car keys. Are you going to give them the car keys? And the answer is generally no, I’m not actually. So those are the same touchpoints you can lean on throughout their entire growth and development trajectory in order to gauge your own limit setting. If you’re ready to hand them complete and utter independence, then don’t give them rules, don’t set limits, be hands off, but that’s not what they need. And you know that and they know that.

There are great therapists out there who use the analogy of you wouldn’t let your kid fly the plane. They’re interested in looking in the cockpit, but you’re not going to let them fly the plane. So it’s all part and parcel of the same thing. And this is what makes child-rearing hard. And child-rearing in 2023, and it’s only going to get worse, is the co-parents in the equation include the internet. So this is very complicated stuff. I will say it until I’m blue in the face. Kids of all ages, tell us they like limits. Limits make them feel safe. They are guardrails that are supposed to be tested and they’re supposed to be pushed against, but they make kids feel safe.

Emily Oster:

I love that. Thank you guys so much. The book is called This is So Awkward. Everyone should read it. I would highly recommend it. It is better than anything about the German Central Bank, and it’s just an absolutely crucial resource. So thank you guys.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett:

Thank you so much.

Cara Natterson:

Thank you.

Emily Oster:

More parent data after the break.

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Aug 12 2022

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Milestones. We celebrate them in pregnancy, in parenting, and they’re a fun thing to celebrate at work too. Just a couple years ago I couldn’t have foreseen what this community would grow into. Today, there are over 400,000 of you here—asking questions, making others feel seen wherever they may be in their journey, and sharing information that supports data > panic. 

It has been a busy summer for the team at ParentData. I’d love to take a moment here to celebrate the 400k milestone. As I’ve said before, it’s more important than ever to put good data in the hands of parents. 

Share this post with a friend who could use a little more data, and a little less parenting overwhelm. 

📷 Me and my oldest, collaborating on “Expecting Better”

Milestones. We celebrate them in pregnancy, in parenting, and they’re a fun thing to celebrate at work too. Just a couple years ago I couldn’t have foreseen what this community would grow into. Today, there are over 400,000 of you here—asking questions, making others feel seen wherever they may be in their journey, and sharing information that supports data > panic.

It has been a busy summer for the team at ParentData. I’d love to take a moment here to celebrate the 400k milestone. As I’ve said before, it’s more important than ever to put good data in the hands of parents.

Share this post with a friend who could use a little more data, and a little less parenting overwhelm.

📷 Me and my oldest, collaborating on “Expecting Better”
...

I spend a lot of time talking people down after they read the latest panic headline. In most cases, these articles create an unnecessary amount of stress around pregnancy and parenting. This is my pro tip for understanding whether the risk presented is something you should really be worrying about.

Comment “link” for an article with other tools to help you navigate risk and uncertainty.

#emilyoster #parentdata #riskmanagement #parentstruggles #parentingstruggles

I spend a lot of time talking people down after they read the latest panic headline. In most cases, these articles create an unnecessary amount of stress around pregnancy and parenting. This is my pro tip for understanding whether the risk presented is something you should really be worrying about.

Comment “link” for an article with other tools to help you navigate risk and uncertainty.

#emilyoster #parentdata #riskmanagement #parentstruggles #parentingstruggles
...

Here’s why I think you don’t have to throw away your baby bottles.

Here’s why I think you don’t have to throw away your baby bottles. ...

Drop your toddlers favorite thing right now in the comments—then grab some popcorn.

Original thread source: Reddit @croc_docs

Drop your toddlers favorite thing right now in the comments—then grab some popcorn.

Original thread source: Reddit @croc_docs
...

Just keep wiping.

Just keep wiping. ...

Dr. Gillian Goddard sums up what she learned from the Hot Flash  S e x  Survey! Here are some key data takeaways:

🌶️ Among respondents, the most common s e x u a l frequency was 1 to 2 times per month, followed closely by 1 to 2 times per week
🌶️ 37% have found their sweet spot and are happy with the frequency of s e x they are having
🌶️ About 64% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the quality of the s e x they are having

Do any of these findings surprise you? Let us know in the comments!

#hotflash #intimacy #midlifepleasure #parentdata #relationships

Dr. Gillian Goddard sums up what she learned from the Hot Flash S e x Survey! Here are some key data takeaways:

🌶️ Among respondents, the most common s e x u a l frequency was 1 to 2 times per month, followed closely by 1 to 2 times per week
🌶️ 37% have found their sweet spot and are happy with the frequency of s e x they are having
🌶️ About 64% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the quality of the s e x they are having

Do any of these findings surprise you? Let us know in the comments!

#hotflash #intimacy #midlifepleasure #parentdata #relationships
...

Should your kid be in a car seat on the plane? The AAP recommends that you put kids under 40 pounds into a car seat on airplanes. However, airlines don’t require car seats.

Here’s what we know from a data standpoint:
✈️ The risk of injury to a child on a plane without a carseat is very small (about 1 in 250,000)
✈️ A JAMA Pediatrics paper estimates about 0.4 child air crash deaths per year might be prevented in the U.S. with car seats 
✈️ Cars are far more dangerous than airplanes! The same JAMA paper suggests that if 5% to 10% of families switched to driving, then we would expect more total deaths as a result of this policy. 

If you want to buy a seat for your lap infant, or bring a car seat for an older child, by all means do so! But the additional protection based on the numbers is extremely small.

#parentdata #emilyoster #flyingwithkids #flyingwithbaby #carseats #carseatsafety

Should your kid be in a car seat on the plane? The AAP recommends that you put kids under 40 pounds into a car seat on airplanes. However, airlines don’t require car seats.

Here’s what we know from a data standpoint:
✈️ The risk of injury to a child on a plane without a carseat is very small (about 1 in 250,000)
✈️ A JAMA Pediatrics paper estimates about 0.4 child air crash deaths per year might be prevented in the U.S. with car seats
✈️ Cars are far more dangerous than airplanes! The same JAMA paper suggests that if 5% to 10% of families switched to driving, then we would expect more total deaths as a result of this policy.

If you want to buy a seat for your lap infant, or bring a car seat for an older child, by all means do so! But the additional protection based on the numbers is extremely small.

#parentdata #emilyoster #flyingwithkids #flyingwithbaby #carseats #carseatsafety
...

SLEEP DATA 💤 PART 2: Let’s talk about naps. Comment “Link” for an article on what we learned about daytime sleep!

The first three months of life are a chaotic combination of irregular napping, many naps, and a few brave or lucky souls who appear to have already arrived at a two-to-three nap schedule. Over the next few months, the naps consolidate to three and then to two. By the 10-to-12-month period, a very large share of kids are napping a consistent two naps per day. Over the period between 12 and 18 months, this shifts toward one nap. And then sometime in the range of 3 to 5 years, naps are dropped. What I think is perhaps most useful about this graph is it gives a lot of color to the average napping ages that we often hear. 

Note: Survey data came from the ParentData audience and users of the Nanit sleep monitor system. Both audiences skew higher-education and higher-income than the average, and mostly have younger children. The final sample is 14,919 children. For more insights on our respondents, read the full article.

SLEEP DATA 💤 PART 2: Let’s talk about naps. Comment “Link” for an article on what we learned about daytime sleep!

The first three months of life are a chaotic combination of irregular napping, many naps, and a few brave or lucky souls who appear to have already arrived at a two-to-three nap schedule. Over the next few months, the naps consolidate to three and then to two. By the 10-to-12-month period, a very large share of kids are napping a consistent two naps per day. Over the period between 12 and 18 months, this shifts toward one nap. And then sometime in the range of 3 to 5 years, naps are dropped. What I think is perhaps most useful about this graph is it gives a lot of color to the average napping ages that we often hear.

Note: Survey data came from the ParentData audience and users of the Nanit sleep monitor system. Both audiences skew higher-education and higher-income than the average, and mostly have younger children. The final sample is 14,919 children. For more insights on our respondents, read the full article.
...

Happy Father’s Day to the Fathers and Father figures in our ParentData community! 

Tag a Dad who this holiday may be tricky for. We’re sending you love. 💛

Happy Father’s Day to the Fathers and Father figures in our ParentData community!

Tag a Dad who this holiday may be tricky for. We’re sending you love. 💛
...

“Whilst googling things like ‘new dad sad’ and ‘why am I crying new dad,’ I came across an article written by a doctor who had trouble connecting with his second child. I read the symptoms and felt an odd sense of relief.” Today we’re bringing back an essay by Kevin Maguire of @newfatherhood about his experience with paternal postpartum depression. We need to demystify these issues in order to change things for the better. Comment “Link” for a DM to read his full essay.

#parentdata #postpartum #postpartumdepression #paternalmentalhealth #newparents #emilyoster

“Whilst googling things like ‘new dad sad’ and ‘why am I crying new dad,’ I came across an article written by a doctor who had trouble connecting with his second child. I read the symptoms and felt an odd sense of relief.” Today we’re bringing back an essay by Kevin Maguire of @newfatherhood about his experience with paternal postpartum depression. We need to demystify these issues in order to change things for the better. Comment “Link” for a DM to read his full essay.

#parentdata #postpartum #postpartumdepression #paternalmentalhealth #newparents #emilyoster
...

What does the data say about children who look more like one parent? Do they also inherit more character traits and mannerisms from that parent? Let’s talk about it 🔎

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingcommunity #lookslikedaddy #lookslikemommy

What does the data say about children who look more like one parent? Do they also inherit more character traits and mannerisms from that parent? Let’s talk about it 🔎

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingcommunity #lookslikedaddy #lookslikemommy
...

SLEEP DATA 💤 We asked you all about your kids’ sleep—and got nearly 15,000 survey responses to better understand kids’ sleep patterns. Comment “Link” for an article that breaks down our findings!

This graph shows sleeping location by age. You’ll notice that for the first three months, most kids are in their own sleeping location in a parent’s room. Then, over the first year, this switches toward their own room. As kids age, sharing a room with a sibling becomes more common. 

Head to the newsletter for more and stay tuned for part two next week on naps! 🌙

#parentdata #emilyoster #childsleep #babysleep #parentingcommunity

SLEEP DATA 💤 We asked you all about your kids’ sleep—and got nearly 15,000 survey responses to better understand kids’ sleep patterns. Comment “Link” for an article that breaks down our findings!

This graph shows sleeping location by age. You’ll notice that for the first three months, most kids are in their own sleeping location in a parent’s room. Then, over the first year, this switches toward their own room. As kids age, sharing a room with a sibling becomes more common.

Head to the newsletter for more and stay tuned for part two next week on naps! 🌙

#parentdata #emilyoster #childsleep #babysleep #parentingcommunity
...

Weekends are good for extra cups of ☕️ and listening to podcasts. I asked our team how they pod—most people said on walks or during chores. What about you?

Comment “Link” to subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster, joined by some excellent guests.

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #parentingtips #emilyoster

Weekends are good for extra cups of ☕️ and listening to podcasts. I asked our team how they pod—most people said on walks or during chores. What about you?

Comment “Link” to subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster, joined by some excellent guests.

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #parentingtips #emilyoster
...

Humility. That’s why. That’s the whole reason.

#emilyoster #secondbaby #parentingjokes #parentinghumor

Humility. That’s why. That’s the whole reason.

#emilyoster #secondbaby #parentingjokes #parentinghumor
...

Bug season is upon us. Besides annoyance, this can bring up safety concerns, particularly with ticks. They are carriers of diseases, most notably Lyme disease. So what’s the best course of action?

Prevention is key! I suggest:
⭐ Regular tick checks
⭐ Using bug sprays with DEET 
⭐ Wearing long sleeves and pants in the woods

Some parents worry about DEET, but repellants with up to 30% DEET are recommended by both the CDC and AAP. The data says you’re in the clear, so go for it. Enjoy your summer!

#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray

Bug season is upon us. Besides annoyance, this can bring up safety concerns, particularly with ticks. They are carriers of diseases, most notably Lyme disease. So what’s the best course of action?

Prevention is key! I suggest:
⭐ Regular tick checks
⭐ Using bug sprays with DEET
⭐ Wearing long sleeves and pants in the woods

Some parents worry about DEET, but repellants with up to 30% DEET are recommended by both the CDC and AAP. The data says you’re in the clear, so go for it. Enjoy your summer!

#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray
...