It’s tough being a dad, especially if you’re trying to be open and honest with your daughter during the tween and teen years—particularly when it comes to sex and puberty. Even if those topics makes you (or your daughter) feel uncomfortable, it’s important to make time to talk. If you don’t make the time, your daughter may not know she can come to you to talk about sensitive issues. Plus, arming your daughter with accurate, sex-positive information will help her make better decisions as she navigates the difficult paths of puberty and dating.
What you should tell your daughter about puberty?
You should tell your daughter that puberty is when her body starts going through the changes that transform her from a kid into an adult: it’s a perfectly natural process. You can explain that the changes are a normal part of growing up, and even though they might be confusing, there’s nothing to be scared of. Because menstruation can happen at any time between the ages of eight and thirteen (and sometimes earlier or later), it’s best to tell your daughter as much as you can as early as she can understand it to help alleviate concerns or anxieties.
How does it work?
When a girl’s body is ready to develop into an adult body, the pituitary gland (which is a pea-sized gland at the base of the brain), releases hormones that start to trigger changes, like growth spurts, breast development, and hair in previously bare places. These hormones also tell the ovaries to start producing estrogen, which in turn stimulates growth of the uterus and thickening of the lining of the uterus. During this process, some of the uterine lining may die and slough off, triggering your daughter’s first period. It’s important to note that ovulation may not have occurred.
What can you do to support her?
Remind your daughter that you’re always available to talk to her, and that you’re not going to judge her. If you think it will help, take her out for a special day where you can have fun, break the tension, and open up to one another. When girls start going through puberty, there are a number of emotional changes that accompany the physical changes. Giving her sanitary pads, tampons, or a moon cup may help her cope initially, but you need to be there for her to lean on when she starts feeling weird, or like she’s different from her friends. You need to tell her that the acne doesn’t matter, that it’s okay to be angry sometimes, and that she’s simply going through a time in which her body needs to grow into herself.
What you should tell your daughter about sex?
If she’s attending a middle school or high school, she may have already gone through a sexual education class (or talked about it with her friends). Give your daughter the highlights, taking care to explain that sex can have emotional and physical consequences (especially with regards to sexually-transmitted infections and pregnancy). Emphasize the importance of practicing safe sex, and give her the opportunity to seek out the method of birth control that will be best for her. (And if she is interested in seeking hormonal birth control, give her your support by helping her make an appointment with her doctor or an OBGYN.)
Explain to her that sex is something that happens between enthusiastic, consenting adults and that if she truly thinks she’s ready, she should make sure she’s with someone who respects her. It’s crucial to remind young women that they should never feel pressured to engage in any sort of sexual encounter, and that they always has the right to say no. Stress that partners who don’t honor those wishes are people who aren’t really looking out for her best interests.
What if she has questions I can’t answer?
Fortunately, the internet boasts a wealth of resources that can help you give your daughter the information necessary to empower her (and maybe even make you feel a little better). You can also refer her to a trusted female friend or family member, and you can always make an appointment with the family doctor.
You might not be able to convince your daughter that she’s perfect just the way she is, or that she’ll grow into her body someday. But regular reassurance and the benefit of your own experience will help her to appreciate that she’s not the only one going through it.