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Keeping Clean When You’re A Preteen

Young people learn about basic changes they should make in their daily hygiene practices during puberty.

Ages

9-14 Years Old

Duration

45 Minutes

What You Need

  • Flip chart
  • Markers
  • Way to play music for a group activity

Resources

Healthy Families Newsletter

English (pdf)

Spanish (pdf)

To find out how this lesson fits Physical Education and Health Education standards click here.

Lesson Overview

Most kids know by age 8 or 9 that changes will start happening to their bodies as they get closer to being teenagers and then young adults. What a lot don’t know, however, is that there are also some changes they’ll need to make in how they care for themselves.

Parents, teachers, and other care givers spend quite a bit of time and energy helping kids learn basic hygiene when they are very young: how to wash hands and for how long, brushing teeth, coughing or sneezing into the elbow, and so on. This kind of teaching and coaching is a lot less common, though no less important, for older youth, especially as their bodies begin to change.

Introduction

When you go through puberty, a lot of physical changes happen. These changes mean that you will have to learn different ways to care for yourself.

Here are some common changes that affect both boys and girls.

  1. Body odor: There are certain sweat glands in your body that only become active once you’ve entered puberty. They produce oils that are different from the sweat you’re used to and can cause different smells, skin irritations and other potential concerns. Using some kind of deodorant or antiperspirant to deal with increase in body odor with help.
  2. Skin and Hair: More oils along with hormones can mean acne and other skin irritation. Acne is typically not caused by poor hygiene, but good hygiene can definitely help keep it in check. You may start to grow more hair, sometimes in places you don’t want it like armpits and pubic areas! Shaving and keeping body hair clean is important.
  3. Breath: Bad breath happens to people of all ages but it can be especially problematic if you are already self-conscious about your changing body. Brushing and flossing teeth twice each day can help keep bad breath in check.
  4. Pubic area: Changes happen to both boys and girls that can affect hygiene. Girls may experience vaginal discharge and will eventually begin menstruating (get their periods). Uncircumcised boys’ foreskins will retract. All boys will start experiencing wet dreams and more frequent erections. Make sure to bathe each day and have feminine hygiene products on hand.

Activity: Ice breaker – Growing Up

  1. Ask the students to mill around to music until you turn it off. When you stop it they should pair up with one other person. If there is an uneven number of students it’s OK to have groups of three.
  2. Have each person tell his or her partner what they wanted to be when they grew up when they were little. Give them a few minutes to talk about this.
  3. Repeat this several time and have them choose a different partner each time.
  4. After the ice breaker, convene the group and ask for a few examples of things people said. There will probably be some funny ones and some things that have changed as the students have matured.
  5. Introduce the topic by telling them that you are going to talk about a particular part of growing up and maturing: puberty.

Activity

  1. Write the word PUBERTY on a flip chart. Ask the students to tell you what other words come to mind when they hear it. Write all of these words and phrases on the flip chart. Summarize and clarify by telling them what puberty is:
    • According to the NIH (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) puberty is the time in life when a boy or girl becomes sexually mature. It is a process that usually happens between ages 10 and 14 for girls and ages 12 and 16 for boys.
    • A lot of physical changes happen during this time and affects boys and girls differently. Those changes mean that boys and girls will have to learn different ways to care for themselves.
  2.  Draw a stick figure or an outline of a body on a pieces of flip chart paper. Explain that you’re going to write and talk about different aspects of self-care using the image as a guide.
    • If you’re comfortable doing so, you can invite the students to help you by writing words or drawing images on the paper that connect to what you’re talking about.
    • Point out that different families have different norms about hygiene and that it’s important to be respectful of those differences.
    • There aren’t right or wrong answers to the topics you’re covering, but there is information that’s important for teens and preteens to know.
  3. Start with the head and face: Ask the students what changes might happen on their heads or faces during puberty. They will likely mention facial hair, acne, and maybe hair in general. You can draw all these things on the image, or write keywords nearby on the paper. This can be your opening to talk about:
    • Shaving: During puberty hair will being growing in new places, including armpits, pubic areas and the face.
      • People make different choices about shaving. In some cultures, shaving may be a standard practice, in others, shaving may be a more personal decision. It’s a good idea to ask someone with experience for guidance in what kind products to use when shaving, such as razors, shaving cream, and after care creams or lotions.
      • Girls may choose to begin shaving their legs, armpits and bikini area.
      • Also mention the myth that once a person starts shaving the hair in that area will grow back thicker and darker. That isn’t true. The stubble may at first be more noticeable because it’s prickly, but it will eventually go back to being how it was before shaving.
    • Acne: Most teens have some acne at some point during their teen years. This is caused mostly by an increase in certain oils.
      • Acne is typically not caused by poor hygiene, but there are things you can do that can help minimize the impact: Wash your face in the morning and at night with a gentle cleanser. Harsh soaps and scrubbing too hard can irritate the skin and make pimples worse.
      • Over-the-counter acne treatments can also be effective in moderation. If the acne is severe or is causing emotional distress, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
    • Hair: The same oils that causes acne may make your hair seem extra oily. Washing every day with a mild cleanser may help. Try not to scrub too hard or rub with a rough towel when drying. All of this can damage your hair and won’t help the problem you’re trying to solve.
    • Breath: Bad breath happens to people of all ages but it can be especially problematic if you are already self-conscious about your changing body. Brushing and flossing teeth twice each day can help keep bad breath in check.
  4. Then move to the mid-section of the body. Ask the students what changes might happen around their mid-section during puberty. They will likely mention body odor, hair growth or breast development, for girls. You can draw all these things on the image, or write keywords nearby on the paper. This can be your opening to talk about:
    • Deodorant: Armpits are an area that may need attention. Some teens, mostly girls, may choose to shave. You may want to start using some kind of deodorant or antiperspirant to deal with increase in body odor.
    • Pubic area/genitals: In general, it’s important to maintain good daily cleaning routines and to always wear clean underwear and avoid other tight fitting clothes (such as compression shorts) to prevent body odor as well as skin irritation, and that special products such as douches are unnecessary
      • Boys: If they are uncircumcised, they will need to start cleaning their penises. As he grows, the foreskin will loosen on its own. This can take three or more years. The foreskin can be pulled back so the penis can be cleaned properly.
      • Girls: They will get their periods at that average age of 12 and will need to start using tampons or pads. Girls don’t need to use special products such as douches.
      • Both: Hair will start to grow in the pubic area.
  5. Lastly, talk about the hands and feet. Ask the students what changes might happen with their hands and feet during puberty. They will likely mention bad smells. You can draw all these things on the image, or write keywords nearby on the paper. This can be your opening to talk about:
    • Hands and feet: They may start to notice that their palms are sweaty and/or their feet are sweaty and smell bad (or their shoes do). This is caused by changes and increases in the kinds of oils their bodies are producing.
    • Encourage students to wash and dry their hands regularly and wash their feet when they shower or bathe.
    • Socks should be changed regularly, at least every day, and it’s good to let feet air out when you can.
    • Pay attention to whether shoes are getting smelly. If so, wash them if you can, or consider buying odor repelling inserts.

Conclusion

Thank the students for their participation in a sensitive conversation. Let them know that puberty can be intimidating but that everyone goes through it and if they have questions or are having a hard time they should be sure to talk to you or another adult they trust.

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English or Spanish so that families can continue discussing the changes that come with puberty at home.

Additional Instructor Resources

Acne – Self care

Zits at my age? Why?

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