Most young people feel okay about puberty, but more girls ‘embarrassed’

Most young people feel okay about puberty, but more girls ‘embarrassed’
August 29, 2023

Research published today by Growing Up in New Zealand looks at young people’s experiences of puberty such as physical development at age twelve, feelings about puberty, and access to free period products in schools. It shows most young people were either ‘not interested’ or felt positively about puberty, although there were differences by gender and by ethnicity.

“It was so good to see that most young people were comfortable about going through puberty – it suggests that puberty has been normalised. And it was wonderful to find some young people, particularly males, felt excited or proud about puberty. However, we found females were much more likely to feel embarrassed about the physical changes. This suggest more needs to be done to help girls feel okay with their bodies as they change and start menstruating. Positive puberty messaging and education helps , but more can be done,” said Dr Emma Marks, a lead author of the paper and a Research Fellow from the University of Auckland | Waipapa Taumata Rau.

Growing Up in New Zealand is a longitudinal study by the University of Auckland looking at the health and wellbeing of young people, children, and their families. This latest research report on puberty showed:

• Consistent with other research, this report shows that young people in Aotearoa New Zealand are reaching puberty earlier than previous generation.
• The two most frequently reported feelings by both sexes were ‘not interested’ and ‘positive. This was followed by ‘excited’ for males (17.5%) and ‘nervous’ for females (23.7%).
• Nearly three times as many females (20.4%) reported being ‘embarrassed’ about puberty compared to males (7.0%).

“Because young people are entering puberty earlier this has important implications for the timing of puberty education, resourcing, and the availability of support services,” said Dr Marks.

The research also looked at menstruation age and use of free period products from school, finding:

• Almost half (45.6%) of all females had begun mentruating by the age of twelve-years old.
• Close to 40 percent of females who had started menstruating at aged 12 reported using free period products from school at least once, and 8 percent had used them often or during every period. However, nearly 60 percent of females who had begun menstruating had never used the free period products from school.

“It’s important for girls to have period products available and accessible to them as well as having some choice of the type of product. We also know it’s beneficial for girls to have access to free products in school as we know that puberty and poor access to period products are associated with lower school attendance, engagement, and participation in extracurricular activities,” said Dr Emma Marks.

See the research, “Now We Are Twelve –Young People’s Experiences of Puberty at Aged 12” on our reports page:  Growing Up Reports

For more information, please contact:  

Julia Crosfield  
Media and Communications, Growing Up in New Zealand  
027 282 4896  

Saraid Black
Communications Manager, Growing Up in New Zealand
09 923 7390 or 0274 732 211