Improving school experience for girls with early onset menstruation

Posted 14 Feb 2022

Across the world, girls are experiencing their first period (menarche) earlier than ever before.

In Australia, the current average age of the onset of menstruation is approximately 12.9 years, but around 12.4 per cent of girls will reach early menarche (before the age of 11).

The school environment is central in a child’s social and emotional development during puberty.

However, studies show that the education system has been slow to adapt to this trend, with a growing number of students beginning to menstruate before being introduced to the subject at school.

Dr Jessica Shipman (pictured left) has received a Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant to find out how well South Australian primary schools support children who experience early onset of menstruation. The project was initially conceived and developed by Olivia Bellas (pictured right) as a Medical Science Honours student, who has lived experience of early menarche and will be assisting with the research.

“Adjusting to the rapid physical and emotional changes of puberty is particularly difficult for early developing girls and they are at greater risk of experiencing adverse outcomes,” Olivia said.

“Studies have shown that both early menarche and early development relative to one’s peers are associated with poorer adolescent health outcomes, including increased depressive symptoms, and worse self-reported health.

“Stigma about menstruation creates challenges for managing periods in public spaces like schools. Education is vital and effective for reducing social stigma, yet 40 per cent of Australian girls surveyed felt their school did not provide adequate education about menstruation.

“School education is particularly important for reducing stigma and equalising gaps and variation in home education about puberty.”

The project will paint a clearer picture of what improvements can be made to curriculum, policies and procedures relating to menstruation in South Australian primary schools.

Research category: Public Health

Project title: The needs of girls with early menarche in South Australia primary schools: An exploratory mixed-methods study

Lead researcher: Dr Jessica Shipman 


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