Menopause Mondays: A Youthologist Talks Puberty and Menopause
Vanessa Van Petten is one of the nation’s youngest experts, or ‘youthologists’ on parenting and adolescents. She runs her popular parenting website, RadicalParenting.com, which she writes with 120 other teenage writers to answer questions from parents and adults. Her next book, “Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?” is being released in September 2011 with Plume Books of Penguin USA.
When I came across her site, I thought it would be great to get her expert youthologist’s perspective on what I like to call “dueling hormones”! Here’s what she had to say:
Q: We’ve discussed dueling hormones on Shmirshky.com before, and when I came across your site, www.radicalparenting.com, I saw that you have a lot to say on the topic as well. Could you share your take on what it’s like in the household when moms experience perimenopause and menopause (I call it PM&M for short!) and their teens are in puberty?
A: If teenagers go through puberty at the same time that their mothers go through perimenopause and menopause, there is likely to be a house of chaos and war. I think we under-emphasize the terrible coincidence of moms who go through menopause at the same time their teenagers are going through puberty, and what a combination! Teenagers have hormones raging through their bodies in ways they have never before experienced, and those hormones influence their thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes. Mothers and their teenagers can have huge emotional blowouts and misunderstandings—they both have mood swings, depression and irritability! No wonder there is so much fighting going on!
Q: Exactly! I often call this the perfect storm!
A: Yes! Add a midlife crisis for a husband/father who is in his 40s or 50s as he faces a teen with new needs, and you have a recipe for family disaster, unless everyone educates themselves on the issues and gains some coping strategies.
Q: That’s great advice. In Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness, there’s a Shmirshky Daily Symptoms Chart on pages 168-69 to help women chart the menopause symptoms they might be experiencing. Many women have often found that going through the chart with their teens can help them open up the discussion about what they’re both experiencing. What symptoms do you think line up?
A: Teenagers in puberty and menopausal women share similar physical and emotional symptoms, such as: weight gain, depression, weight gain, anxiety, loss of motivation…. Of course, the list goes on! And for teenagers, the symptoms include increased body awareness, growing pains, and increased sexual appetite at the top of the list.
Q: You sure know your stuff! Do you have a take on grumpy old man syndrome, too?
A: The misunderstandings between teenagers and their fathers can be hormonally based as well. Fathers lose testosterone as they age. Prostate issues may cause sexual dysfunction and a feeling of being less than a man. Many men experience these issues but have no skill set for recognizing their feelings and putting them into words. Their resulting confusion and upset state makes life very difficult to handle. Add to this mix a hysterical teen and a wife going through the change, and it is a wonder that teens survive to adulthood!
Q: I’ve learned from personal experience that talking it out is key and I often say: Reaching out is IN. Suffering in Silence is OUT! What are your tips for hormone happiness in the household?
A: I think learning about this combination and working together to avoid the problems it causes can greatly reduce unneeded tension in a household. Keep in mind these tips:
- Simply being aware of the fact that many of our emotional ups and downs are hormonally based will take a lot of the shame and guilt off of fights and blow-ups.
- We need to discuss these changes with our family members. Many times, teenagers know about puberty and they might know about menopause, but they certainly do not put two and two together nor do they understand that this can be a deadly mix.
- I think another way we can avoid the easy traps is to understand our hormonal cycles. Some teenagers are great in the morning, but feel very emotional or depressed in the late afternoon. We need to recognize our own cycles (and good times of the day and bad times) and be clear with our family members about them. If the late afternoon is a rough time for your teenager talk to them about taking alone time them and do not initiate discussions or activities during that time until hormones regulate. Moms can also be aware of their cycles if they know that they are irritable in the morning for example, they should get as much done the night before and let teens know it is a rocky time for them.
Thank you so much Vanessa! Your site and your expertise are refreshing and inspiring. Check out more articles written by teens, for parents at http://www.RadicalParenting.com