By: Dr. Aletha Akers
It started innocently enough, a 6th grade weekend sleep over. That is practically a middle school rite of passage.
Then it happened. One girl went to the bathroom and realized her period had come. She panicked.
It wasn’t that this was her first period, she told me. She had actually been getting them for more than a year. The problem was that she wasn’t prepared for it to come that day. Normally, she kept extra pads in her backpack, along with two extra pair of underwear, and a ziplock bag with medicine for cramps.
But, she didn’t have her backpack. She had swapped it for a larger camping bag so her sleeping bag would fit. Now, here she was at a friend’s house with no supplies.
She considered looking through the bathroom cabinets to see if she could find some sanitary napkins. She decided not to because she felt uncomfortable taking things without asking.
She thought about telling her friends what was happening, but chose not since she knew none of them had their periods yet. It might lead to questions she didn’t want to deal with.
She wondered if she should ask the host’s mother for pads, but did not because that would have been mortifying.
This young woman told me she just wanted to call her own mother and ask her to bring supplies. But, the girl with the period didn’t have a cell phone and didn’t want to ask the host to use hers because there was no way to have a private conversation without raising the suspicions of the other girls.
To make things worse, the home was filled with white furniture! The young woman who shared this story with me said she stood the entire evening. She also barely slept that night.
The average age at which girls in the United States have their first period is 12. That means half of girls who are in sixth or seventh grade have already had their first period.
During that first year, more than 70% of girls will find that their periods are unpredictable, meaning they don’t know when they will come, how long they may last, or how uncomfortable they may be.
Knowing this, what can parents do to make sleepovers stress-free for the tweens/teens who may stay over?
For parents hosting a sleepover:
- Call ahead or text the parents of the girls who will be sleeping over to ask if any of the girls have their periods. You can ask this at the same time you ask about other special needs, such as food allergies, severe allergies requiring that they bring an epi pen, or medications they may need to take.
- Leave menstrual supplies in an obvious place, such as in a clearly marked container in the bathroom.
- Tell the girls when they arrive how you can be reached if necessary.
- Offer or ask that they each contact their parents after arrival, providing a socially neutral opportunity to communicate any concerns to their parents.
- Remember that boys go through puberty too! After puberty, it is normal for boys to have nocturnal emissions. These can be equally messy and embarrassing. Follow these same suggestions if you have tween or teen males stay over.
For parents sending their teen to a sleepover:
- If your teen has gotten their period before, you can ask them if they know when their next period will start. If not, you can use this moment to teach them about different ways to track their period.
- Be sure they are equipped with menstrual supplies before leaving for the sleepover. Even if they have gotten their period before, they may not regularly track their cycle and you don’t want them to be surprised by their period while not in the comfort of their own home.
- Give your teen strategies on how to handle their period when not at home. Who can they talk to if they do get their period?
- Empowering your teen to feel confident and comfortable having their period at a sleepover is the first step in building their capacity to enter adulthood!