“The reality is that our children are exposed to these themes, to a certain extent, with or without our control,” Dr. Wang said. Watching a movie like “Turning Red” together as a family, and checking in with kids during and after, can help children develop a “willingness and openness to share their confusion with us. I think that’s where the transformative conversations can happen.”
Talk about bodies, periods and puberty
When Mei first turns into a red panda, she hides in the bathroom, and her mother brings in boxes of menstrual pads, assuming she had gotten her first period. While some parents are upset at the nod to menstruation, experts say it’s good for both girls and boys — even young ones — to learn about body parts and normal body processes.
“Of all the things parents have to be concerned about when it comes to raising children, a normal body function like menstruation should not be one of them,” said Elizabeth Schroeder, a New York-based sex educator. “There is so much shame wrapped up in how bodies work, when instead we should be celebrating them.”
The movie normalizes periods, and “that kind of openness can make girls feel so much more confident and accepted while going through adolescence,” said Annie Tao, a clinical psychologist who treats children and teens at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
If your child watches “Turning Red” before having learned what periods are, you could you use the scene as an opportunity to explain the concept to them, Dr. Smetana said. Lauren Tetenbaum, a social worker based in Westchester, N.Y., said she explained to her 5-year-old son that Mei got her period “because that’s what happens to girls when they become teenagers. He was like ‘OK, cool.’”
Parents can also share their perspective on how other characters in the movie reacted to the idea of Mei’s menstruation. “I talked to my 8-year-old about how the dad seemed embarrassed about periods and that isn’t OK,” said Terrae Weatherman of Saint Paul, Minn. “My husband was there during the discussion and helped reinforce that men should know about periods because that is how some bodies work.”
The period scene also creates an opportunity for parents to talk about their own experiences. Chloe Caldwell, a writer based in Hudson, N.Y., talked about her struggle with premenstrual dysphoric disorder with her 11-year-old stepdaughter when they watched the movie.