On puberty and self care for teen girls

I often get asked about resources for talking with your girls about their changing bodies, especially from mom’s who have girls inching toward puberty, so I wanted to share a few book ideas, and my view points. And take note, I am a women’s health provider, with all sisters and only daughters, so I am useless in regards to anything about boys…so, this is a very one sided post.

Hands down, the first book everyone should have is a basic anatomy book. It has been the main go to and lead up, cause after all, the girl parts are just one aspect to their whole body health, and we can talk about it long before the dreaded first period. But more than that, it gives us a practice tool to talk about caring for our body, in times of health and in injury. When your kid gets an ear infection, show them the ear section. When they get a cut or scrape, or stiches, show them the skin section. When a family member gets a medical diagnosis that the adults around them are worrying about, show them that section while you describe what it may mean for the loved one. It normalizes that our body does things that we can learn about. It takes girl issues or gender out of the picture, it just gives us a body to learn about and care for. I do not mean a fun anatomy coloring book or a kid baby book, just a nice simple book to use as a reference. It will serve you for years and years, and many more topics than just prep for puberty, and is relevant for the girls and boys of the household. I have this one, which you can get used all over.

The next book that was introduced in our household was “It’s so Amazing.” This could because of the nature of my work, or just where the questions were leading us, but as friends had babies, this felt like a nice place to start. It is a time proven book, with fun characters and appropriate terminology and images. If you are worried about how to answer the questions, a good book reading season can take away that pressure. When they ask you something that you are not prepared to answer, you can say, “that is a good question, let’s go look for those answers.” Initially we just got to the first page or two, but as the got bigger, they had more questions and tolerance for more material, so the book came and went from the shelf over the years. Hands down, answering their questions with honesty and truth is the #1 priority, so if that stresses you out, a book can be helpful. And ideally a book that you read together, so they learn that you are a resource for these questions. Let’s try to avoid the whole “there was a book on my pillow when I came home from school” story that I hear more often than I wish to be true. This book can also be found online, at your local bookstore and certainly in the used book price range as it has been around since forever.

These two books were our go to reading until age 8 or 9. Until you notice changes in their bodies, like pubic hair or breast buds, you can trust that you are still fully in little kid territory. When they have questions, just answer what they ask, with honesty. When you do not know that answer, or feel unprepared to answer, let them know that you do not know and that you will get back to them, find out what you need, and get back to them. You do not need to know the answers to all things, but you do need to be a trusting resource for when they ask, and saying you don’t know but coming back with answers builds that trust. Sometimes kids ask things that surprise or worry you, like the time my kiddo came home asking me to tell her what some slang sex words meant. I was surprised, and inside, I was sad that she was being exposed to these things, but I answered honestly, and without drama or judgement. It was not her fault that she was exposed to those words and I want her to trust that she can come to me with anything, anytime. I explained the word and apologized to her that she was exposed to that word, and shared with her that it was not a kind word to use in school and to remove herself from social situations where these are topics when possible. I have also had to Google words in front of her, as slang/playground talk changes fast these days – never feel bad for being curious with her to find and process the answers. Chapter 8 in Good Inside by Becky Kennedy reviews this concept further and really feels like a no shame, all connection way to be with your child as you both navigate this phase. All kids need different things at different phases, but being their central source of information is a leading priority for me as a parent.

Once we stepped into the real signs of puberty, I leaned fully into the AmericanGirl series, The Care & Keeping of You, 1, 2 and 3. Which is really off brand of me, as we did virtually no actual American Girl dolling in our house😊, but again, the books are written with care, using up to date language and there are age appropriate options. At this phase, I did give the books to the girls, with the assignment for them to look at and read on their own. One of the girls read them all in a jiffy, the other refused (if you know my girls, you know who is who). One asked that we read them together, so we did, and it ended up being a nice opportunity for connection and better understanding. The full series covers a few years, so take it as it feels right to your kiddo, start with 1, and move on up as it feels right. They also have The Feelings Book which may help as a common shared place when big emotions settle in (something I will explore more in the coming months for sure…). I also have a few other books on the shelf for the teen who is a few menstrual cycles into puberty and curious, “What’s Happening in my body” and Cycle Savvy, by the same author of the well loved Taking Charge of My Fertility, Toni Weschler.

For reading as a mom girl, I am working my way through the writings of Lisa Damour. She has a book from 2017, Untangled, that has held up well to current events, and then recently published The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents, so again, leaning into my goals and philosophy of being present and connected with them as they grow into and through this phase. Huge changes take place in the years of puberty but social scientists point to data suggesting that their brain development has not reached maturity until their early to middle 20’s, so while the first period is a big to do, it really just marks the start of the second half of parenting and deserves whatever amount of care and attention needed, just like sleep training and learning to ride a bike…we need to be there with our kids as a dependable resource.

Next up, reading and tools for all things Moods and Emotions.