Twins and Puberty
Adolescence is a time of growth, uncertainty and mistakes – and that's just the way it affects parents! Triple that for the young person going through it, and you have a family riding the roller coaster of puberty. So what if you have twins? Will you ever survive?
Looking back, Jo Graeber, from Anderson, S.C., believes that, in a sense, having twins going through puberty was extremely difficult. Her daughter was a rather wild child and developed socially far earlier than did her twin brother. While his sister was going to friends' houses to meet with boys, he was at home, more interested in friend stuff than chasing girls.
"My girl was boy crazy by age 10 and 'going' with boys by age 12 ... going means literally flirting, calling on [the] phone, silly girly stuff," says Graeber. "At the same time, my son still had his friends, and he was more interested in doing boy things than messing with girls yet."
When one twin develops more quickly than the other, either physically or socially, there can be resentment or jealousy. With twins, the one left behind can feel inadequate, while the one who has developed first can be sensitive about their physical changes.
Graeber's twins were no exception. "I'd say he felt left behind to a certain extent," says Graeber. "She was doing 'dating' things ... going out and having fun, while he was staying home with his buddies."
Dr. Rebecca Unger, pediatrician for Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, believes the amount of stress different developmental rates has on twins depends on many different factors. "The ramifications will depend on the timing of the changes of puberty and the relationship of the twins," says Dr. Unger. "If one twin starts maturing early and the other has more average timing, it would probably be more stressful on the child entering puberty on the early side. However, if one twin goes through puberty at an average time and the second twin is delayed, this might be more stressful on the latter twin."
Not Alike in All Ways
But why would twins develop at different rates in the first place? Aren't they alike?
The answer is yes – and no. Dr. Unger says that the timing of pubertal development has a strong familial component. Girls generally begin their periods and begin developing about the same time as their mothers did. Boys may also follow their father's developmental patterns. There is also normal variation of the timing of onset of puberty.
"Therefore, dizygotic twins would have the same variation as siblings who are not twins," says Dr. Unger. "Monozygotic, or identical twins, who have the same genetic material should enter puberty at approximately a similar time, but there still can be some natural variation."
Dr. Unger suggests having your twins evaluated for endocrine problems if there is a large discrepancy in the timing of onset of puberty in identical twins. "This evaluation could be to determine early onset of puberty, or late onset, depending on associated symptoms and the growth pattern," says Dr. Unger. "In some cases, a simple bone age, which is obtained by taking an X-ray of the wrist, can determine if development is normal. In other situations, a referral to an endocrinologist might be beneficial."
The Issue of Privacy
Privacy is important at this age, even between twins of the same sex, as Trina Lambert, mother to 10-year-old fraternal twins, has discovered. Lambert, a stay-at-home mom from Englewood, Colo., recently bought her daughter her first bra and in doing so found out just how sensitive her daughter is about her twin brother knowing anything about her development.
"She is wanting the privacy already, and he is not," says Lambert. "She wants to talk to me privately about her bra or a certain boy, but her brother always seems to know when she is talking, and he appears just in time to jump in on the conversation."
"I am concerned for how puberty will affect my twins' relationship," says Lambert. "They have been very close, and puberty requires more privacy between brothers and sisters. He has taken the information from the puberty talk at school and he just loves to bring it up, especially at inappropriate times."
The Parents' Role
Dr. Unger believes that in either case, it is important for parents to be supportive of both patterns of growth and change. "There should be ample opportunity for supportive discussions, and both children should feel that they can go to their parents privately or otherwise to talk about their concerns," says Dr. Unger. "Parents can also encourage the twins to talk through these differences amongst themselves."
It can also be helpful to acknowledge that there are many stressful feelings that accompany changing bodies and changing responsibilities at home and at school. "During this time in an adolescent's life, it is important to be supportive, accessible and empathetic," says Dr. Unger. "Leave the door open for discussion, and do not be afraid to initiate a discussion about a sensitive topic."
Sometimes when the twins are emotionally close it is difficult for them to admit feeling jealous or resentful about the other. Parents need to give them a safe place to address those feelings.
Make sure the twins have a supportive environment in which to talk about their concerns. It is important adolescents feel they have enough people to talk to about their feelings, whether it's friends, a teacher, parents or a counselor at school. By making privacy and courtesy a priority between twins, puberty doesn't have to be much more stressful for twins than it is for singletons.