Editor’s Note: Michelle Icard is the author of several books on raising adolescents, including “Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen.”
I’ve worked with middle schoolers, their parents and their schools for 20 years to help kids navigate the always awkward, often painful, sometimes hilarious in hindsight, years of early adolescence.
Most of the social and development stretch marks we gain during adolescence fade to invisibility over time. We stop holding a grudge against the kid who teased us in class for tripping, or we forgive ourselves our bad haircuts, botched friendships and cringy attempts at popularity.
But one growing pain can be dangerously hard to recover from, and ironically, it’s the one that has most to do with our physical growth.
Children are supposed to keep growing in adolescence, and so a child’s changing body during that time should not be cause for concern. Yet it sends adults into a tailspin of fear around weight, health and self-esteem.
Kids have always worried about their changing bodies. With so many changes in such a short period of early puberty, they constantly evaluate themselves against each other to figure out if their body development is normal. “All these guys grew over the summer, but I’m still shorter than all the girls. Is something wrong with me?” “No one else needs a bra, but I do. Why am I so weird?”
But the worry has gotten worse over the past two decades. I’ve seen parents becoming increasingly worried about how their children’s bodies change during early puberty. When I give talks about parenting, I often hear adults express concern and fear about their children starting to gain “too much” weight during early adolescence.
Parents I work with worry that even kids who are physically active, engaged with others, bright and