Real Life Lessons in Puberty from Disney’s “Turning Red”

Jordan Harris, MHA, CHES
Senior Health Educator

What do a fluffy red panda, teenage girls, boy bands, and puberty all have in common? They are all featured in Disney’s movie, “Turning Red”.

It is no secret that conversations about puberty can be overwhelming, uncomfortable, and painstakingly awkward for everyone. Nevertheless, Disney’s “Turning Red” uses the all too familiar experience of adolescence to depict 13-year-old Meilin (Mei) Lees’ journey through puberty while wittingly opening the door to conversation about growing up. Although Mei’s biggest change, transforming into a fluffy red panda, didn’t happen for any of us during puberty, many of the changes Mei and her friends experience during the film happen for everyone! “Turning Red” can be a wonderful tool to spark conversation about the social, emotional, and physical changes that happen during puberty. Mood swings, independence from parents, and identifying more with peers are three of the major social and emotional changes that Mei and her friends experience during the movie. They are also great talking points for conversations about puberty.

Mood Swings:

Mood swings are among the most noticeable changes that happen during adolescence. It is important to share with teens and pre-teens that mood swings are normal for everyone during puberty and are a major emotional change. Try using movie scenes to point out the major mood swings the main characters experience during the film and point out that it might feel like a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. Feelings during puberty may start to feel more intense than before, and it is important to discuss what are not considered “normal” emotional changes during puberty. Long periods of sadness or happiness aren’t necessarily normal, even during puberty, and it is important to encourage youth to reach out to a parent or a trusted adult if they think they need help. 

Independence from Parents: 

From first concerts to first parties, independence from parents is another significant change that happens during puberty. This social change can be a true struggle, and at times may feel like an all-out war, like the mother daughter relationship depicted in “Turning Red.” As you watch the movie with your teen, ask questions about how Mei could have responded differently to her mother and father, and ask about what changes in Mei’s relationship with her parents.

Identifying More with Peers

Disney’s “Turning Red” reminds all of us of the important role friendship plays during adolescence. Although there were many ups and downs in their friendship throughout the movie, Mei’s friend group stood the test of time. Friendships become the center of the universe for many teens and social interactions are at the center of it all. Discuss some of the characteristics of a healthy and unhealthy friendship with your teen. What types of characteristics do they look for in a friend? What makes a bad friend? What were some healthy and unhealthy characteristics you noticed in the film?

There are countless changes that Mei’s family and friends experience during Disney’s “Turning Red,” including changing relationships, peer pressure, and forming your own identity and opinions. All of these changes make great conversation starters about puberty, growing up, and the challenges we all face during adolescence. While this movie provides a great starting point for conversations, remember the conversation shouldn’t end here. Navigating adolescence can be challenging, uncomfortable, and overwhelming, but having open and honest conversations early and often can help prepare you and your pre-teens for the journey ahead!

Featured Poe Programs: Girl Talk and Guy Talk

Girl Talk

Participants: 4th-7th grade & adults

Girl Talk addresses the timely topic of adolescent growth and development and the physical, social and emotional changes that girls experience during puberty. 3-D exhibits, hands-on activities, and candid discussions help moms/trusted adults and daughters explore a range of topics from the workings of the reproductive system to the menstrual cycle to feminine hygiene protection and more.

Guy Talk

Participants: 5th-8th grade & adults

Guy Talk will equip boys with accurate age-appropriate information developed to help with healthy growth and development. Workshop topics include the changes which happen during puberty, the reproductive system, proper nutrition, and hygiene. Poe Center educators will lead parents/trusted adults and sons through engaging and interactive activities.

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mother and daughter embracing

Featured Resource: Growth & Development

This KidsHealth resource for parents provides information on the social, emotional, and physical changes that your child may experience during adolescence and puberty.

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