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Episode 112: Early Puberty and Its Impact on Mental Health with Dr. Sheryl Ziegler

Brief summary of show:

In this episode, Dr. Sheryl Ziegler joins me to talk about puberty and its impact on children's mental health.

Dr. Zeigler is a renowned expert in the field, who shares her insights on the first signs of puberty in both boys and girls. We discuss the crucial connection between puberty and mental health, providing valuable tips to support kids during this transitional period. Additionally, we explore effective approaches from an educational perspective, including identifying signs of puberty in your child and the importance of parental self-education.

Dr. Ziegler is a therapist, author, media contributor, instructor and speaker. She has appeared as a mental health expert in 100+ news related shows including The Today Show with Megyn Kelly, The Katie Couric Show, The Jenny McCarthy Show, The Doctors, CNN, Headline News Weekend Express with Lynn Smith, Morning Express with Robin Meade, and more. Articles she has contributed to have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harvard Business Review, TIME, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents, Real Simple, Huffington Post and more.

Her book has been translated into several different languages. She is an international speaker in countries including Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Australia.

Listen in as we talk about:

  • [2:45] Dr. Sheryl's background

  • [5:50] First signs of puberty in both boys and girls

  • [7:50] The connection between puberty and mental health

  • [10:55] Tips to help kids through puberty

  • [19:20] How to approach this from an education perspective

  • [20:30] Signs your child is in puberty

  • [24:40] Educating yourself as a parent

  • [27:40] Limiting exposure to social media and being online

Notes from Natalie:

Connect with Sheryl

Connect with Me

View Transcript for this Episode

Natalie: Kids are going through puberty earlier than ever before. Why? And what should we be doing as parents and as a community to help them?

Natalie: Hi everyone, it's Natalie. So glad you are joining today. It's finally summer and I can tell you I am so excited for the newness of the summer season. My kids are out of school, at least my two college daughters in Tennessee and Florida.

My middle schooler here in Colorado is almost done and we are gearing up for. Swim team, summer activities, and for me as a teacher, some much needed time off. Of course, I'm not gonna take time off from the podcast, but I'll have time out of the classroom. Today I'm talking to one of my favorite guests, Cheryl Ziegler.

Dr. Cheryl Ziegler. She's been here on the podcast before talking about her book, mommy Burnout. Dr. Ziegler holds a doctorate in psychology and is a licensed professional counselor and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Colorado Association for Play Therapy. She's treated thousands of children, tweens, teens, and their families with a very broad range of issues like anxiety, depression, trauma, bullying, self-harm.

We could talk to her about everything from divorce. Social skills and overall life adjustments. But today we're discussing a topic that she is passionate about and it's becoming increasingly relevant and concerning for parents, and that is early puberty. Dr. Cheryl will be sharing her experience on the causes and effects of early puberty, including the role of environmental toxins, stress.

Socioeconomic status. She's also gonna be providing practical advice for parents and caregivers on how to approach this topic with kids, including things like finding the right language, educating those around them, and addressing anxiety related to social media and current events as it relates to puberty.

I am. So glad you're here. If I haven't said that before, be sure to visit my website for more topics like this and for resources that I know will help you. It's natalie and you'll find many links at natalie So let's get started today with Dr. Cheryl Ziegler.

Cheryl, great to have you on again. I don't know if you realized that you were my first podcast recording two years.

Sheryl: Ooh, I, I knew I was maybe one of your first, but not

Natalie: the very first. How excited? My first it was mommy burnout and what a big one. I mean, I still have downloads from that podcast. I'll link it for folks, but you have a new project you're working on, super relevant to the audience who listens to this podcast.

So tell us about it and then let's go a little bit deeper.

Sheryl: Yeah, absolutely. So just like you said I started my writing career talking about moms and their chronic stress and their burnout. And since then I think this happens to most writers. You know, you kind of go like, what's striking me? What do I want to invest my heart and soul into?

Cuz writing a book is like birthing a baby into the world. And so, you know, initially I thought we are in a mental health state of e. We have a massive, you know, mental health crisis, pretty focused on adolescence, 12 to 17. And I wanted to write a book about teens and, and the mental health crisis.

But every time I went to start writing about teens, I thought, wait, but. This advice needs to start earlier. Mm-hmm. This way of parenting or this way of talking to kids, it needs to start earlier. We can't wait until kids are 14, 15 or 16 to go, oh, okay. I think I'm understanding teens now. It's like you have to be a little bit ahead of that.

Mm-hmm. And know that you can set them up for success. And so I got on my path. I, I do love teens and wanting to help create almost a healthy roadmap to mental health for teens. Yeah. So after I realized that all of the, all of the lessons or parenting strategies or things to know about for teens, Really started in middle childhood.

I have been setting on this quest for, I've been researching for probably the last. Six or eight months, really specifically on puberty. And for the last 10 years I've been doing this, start with the talk class. So in my start with the talk class, that's been really like a mother-daughter preparing for the social, emotional and physical changes, A puberty class.

And it's like my favorite thing that I do. So it all came together like yes, I've been talking about puberty and middle childhood and middle school. For a decade and been treating it for 20 years, and I see that, not that I necessarily didn't know it, but now I see it very clearly as, oh yes, we can actually create a roadmap and healthy coping mechanisms and learning things like regulation and understanding race and toxic beauty culture and all these kinds of things.

If you look at that in middle childhood, you set your kid up for success when they become an a.

Natalie: I'm fascinated by this because we hear so much change through puberty physically, but what does that have to do with their mental health specifically? I mean, I've got one right now who's 13 and it's, and it's my third who's a boy. And so I feel like, is this just because he is a boy and I've raised two girls, like it's so d.

Sheryl: Yes, it is so different. So I also have a 13 year old boy right now. But he is the middle and the oldest one is a girl. So, here's some things, here's some differences, here's some things of what to know. So, interestingly, in the United States over the last 100 years, puberty has gotten earlier and earlier and earlier.

So during the pandemic, Endocrinologists. Were seeing parents bringing their kids in at earlier ages, like eight and nine, and saying, oh my gosh, I think they're going through puberty. They're showing these signs, and they had in fact started puberty. So one of the things I first wanna differentiate is that earlier puberty, just, this is the average continuum.

You're gonna be, I think, really surprised what I'm about to say. Average. There's always average dead straight in the middle, and then there's ear, you know, earlier, average, later. Average span for a boy to be in normal puberty is nine to 14. So if your kid is nine, they're in third or fourth grade, and you say they're showing signs of puberty, average earlier, end of average.

Wow. It's not shocking. Now, girls, eight to 12. So we're talking solidly third grade where we're seeing girls start puberty. And let me be clear what puberty is? Puberty, let's say for a girl, sometimes people think that's when they start their menstrual cycle, they get their period. It's not puberty. You don't get, if you're a girl, you have your first signs of puberty, and then about two years later, on average, you would get then start your menstrual cycle.

So that means if you have an 11 year. Who has her period. That means she probably started puberty though at nine.

And why does that matter to mental health? Because. The changes are all occurring in the brain. This is a very neurological process. Mm-hmm. And so if you have a nine year old who's exposed to all the things in the world, so the violence that's happening, school shootings, climate anxiety, all of these things that they're bombarded with social media stresses, and she's nine.

And she's developing and she is pushing away from parents cuz that's independence. And then wanting to gain the identity that you would normally in adolescence. But now things are happening earlier. So all of a sudden identity is becoming important at an earlier age. You have this generation of kids that's overwhelmed, totally anxious, feels tons of pressure, has depression, and then eating disorders.

We've got this, section of kids in middle childhood that are potentially developing earlier and even if they're not developing earlier mm-hmm. The person next to them is the boy behind them is and so it's happening Oh yeah. Around them. Right. I mean, I was just in my son, I do have a 10 year old son.

I was in his fourth grade class a couple of weeks ago volunteering. There were distinctly out of 21 kids in this class. There were two girls that literally looked like middle schoolers and little do they know what I'm thinking, I'm. You are going through earlier puberty. They are fully developed, fully physically developed, and this is why this is important.

Do teachers, do parents, do adults, do coaches, do they treat those girls like they're 10, they could have even been nine, or do you then start adult justifying kids? We know through the research that girls get sexualized earlier if they develop. That they lose their childhood. One of my missions is to preserve childhood for kids.

And so if you are developing earlier and you're going through not just physical changes but brain changes as well, the research shows some really distinct things that it's, it, it's like a flooding. They can't, they're not ready yet to process. All of these things are being exposed to, particularly because of social media, but just in, in general, it's like, yeah, my body's developing and my brain is developing, but I'm not quite processing this because I don't get mm-hmm.

Half those skills. That should be two or three years from now, not an early, you know, mid elementary school.

Natalie: wow. I mean, I am blown away because I'm thinking, okay, so my son is 13, but if I think of these kids in fourth and fifth grade, we're treating them like they're babies.

I mean, I know I'm exaggerating babies, but we're, you know, we're still treating them like we were treated when we were in elementary school and young, and babying them and doing things for them. So what do we do?

How do we help them through this? How do we parent.