They are the all-important questions around talking to young girls and puberty: When do I begin the conversation? Where do I do it? What do I say?
If you’re looking for tips for how to approach the conversation, look no further than Sarah Roe, a certified nurse-midwife with Sanford Women’s in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Puberty for girls is all-encompassing, Roe says.
“It’s not just the start of menstruation, it’s the changing body, the hormones, emotions and friend challenges they start to go through,” Roe said. “It’s a super important time in a girl’s life to make bonds with mothers and women they consider mentors so they have someone to turn to to help coach them through this time in their life.”
She said one of the most common questions she hears is when to bring adolescent girls in for their first visit to the OB/GYN.
“There’s really no specific age that they need to come and see us,” Roe tells Sanford Health News. “However, girls who are having troubles with their periods, lots of cramping, heavy bleeding or hormone changes should come in so that we can have a discussion of whether it’s normal or not.”
Sometimes, she says, it’s just reassurance for them to know these changes are normal.
“If girls aren’t having any symptoms before 15 years old, we want to see them to make sure everything is normal and figure out why it hasn’t started yet,” Roe said.
“Most women are okay with talking to their daughters about puberty and what to expect with their changing body,” Roe said. “So I’ve been really encouraged by that.”
Anticipating the first period
Girls should expect their first period anywhere from 10-15 years old.
“Don’t wait to have the conversation until that first period arrives because she will be terrified,” Roe said.
The goal is to keep that line of communication open throughout her life so it won’t be such a “big talk” when it’s time to have it.
“They really respond really well to that and they’ll have a lot of questions,” Roe said. “It’s a lot easier if the girl can drive the conversation and ask the questions because then you have something to go off of.”
Easing the jitters
When her patients express anxiety over approaching the conversation with their prepubescent daughters, Roe tries to remind them it’s nothing to fear.
“I really try and reassure and empower moms that their daughter wants to talk to somebody she trusts and loves, not the school nurse or the school counselor,” Roe said. “She really wants to hear from somebody that she’s close to and feels safe with. And we’ve all been through this, and you remember exactly what it was like to go through. For her to hear your personal experience will make a huge impact as well.”
In some cases, the internet and social media aren’t doing us any favors.
“Girls are growing up in a super heavy technology-based world right now,” Roe explained. “So they have information at their fingertips and so they can search for anything.”
The fear is what they talk about and do with their friends via social media without parents knowing, seeing or hearing.
“It’s really important to filter the social media and to keep tabs on their use of technology, because we don’t want them hearing wrong information. We want to be able to talk with them firsthand about it.”
Pro tips for beginning ‘the talk’
In addition to great books or video resources parents can use, Roe has the following tips to make the conversation as comfortable and effective as possible:
- Sit down to explain puberty before she gets her first period
- Consider talking to her in a group, pairing up with her friends or other loved ones of the same age
- Give her a heads up that you want to talk about puberty and ask her to prepare three questions of her own
- Take a drive in the car or a place she can’t run away; you can avoid eye contact and it feels less vulnerable for them
“The adolescent puberty talk isn’t just about the period,” she said.
“It’s all about body image and their changing body. They’re going through so much right now.”
She encourages moms to allow girls to embrace the changes they’re having.
“We like to focus a lot on nutrition and exercise, and filtering out what is acceptable and what is not on social media,” she says. “Help them to embrace the changes and realize they’re one of a kind. These changes are making them into the women that they’re becoming so they should own and accept it.”
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