Try as you may, your little girl is not going to stay little forever. It’s inevitable and, perhaps, a little unnerving to think about, let alone talk about the changes your daughter will experience in the years to come. But puberty, PMS and, eh-hum, their first crush, are all a part of life.
Girls need a resource to help them navigate through these years … and so do parents. That’s why programs like Girlology – developed by a gynecologist and pediatrician (and moms themselves) to help open up the dialogue – are so important, now more than ever.
Dr. Lea Mahoney, an OB/GYN at HCA’s Henrico Doctors’ Hospital, represents one of the many “Girlologists” around the country who are equipping girls and parents with medically-based information on puberty, sexuality and adolescent health.
“Girls are exposed to so much these days with the internet and social media, yet there is no one policing accuracy,” Dr. Mahoney said. “These conversations are never easy, but with the Girlology programs, we hope to provide accurate information and an open line of communication between girls and their parents.”
“There are themes that are true regardless of your generation,” the two-year certified Girlologist added. “The changes our bodies experience are scary, regardless of whether you experienced puberty in the 1970s, 1990s or 2000s.”
Thanks to Dr. Mahoney and her work with Girlology, here are the most frequently asked questions by tween girls now, and how to respond.
Am I normal?
When girls wonder whether they’re normal…that’s NORMAL! We are all guilty of comparing ourselves to others, but as puberty approaches, it’s important for girls to understand that there’s a very broad range of what’s normal. In Girlology, one of our primary goals is to normalize normal. Every girl is going to go through body changes in her own unique way and on her own unique time schedule, so girls will have different things happening at different times – and that’s perfectly ok. As a gynecologist, I get these questions on a regular basis from grown women who are still wondering if their body is normal. Many girls worry specifically about their breasts and their “private parts.” We tell them that just like our faces all have a unique look – so do our other parts, even our breasts and “private parts” (or as the girls learn the correct term… our vulvas).
When will I start my period?
As puberty begins and girls learn about periods, they all want some insight into WHEN their first period will happen. Mother Nature likes surprises, so we can’t pinpoint it exactly, but we can definitely share some “hints” that it’s coming soon. In our Girlology programs, we review the stages of breast development and pubic hair development that help predict the general timing of first periods. We also let everyone in on the biggest clue: most girls start their first period within six months of their fastest growth spurt. By following pubertal stages and monitoring their height, girls can have a better idea when the big day is coming. It’s nice to know when to gather supplies and be prepared!
What if I have an accident?
When we ask the moms in our programs to raise their hand if they’ve ever had a period accident, the girls learn that accidents happen— to everyone! Whether it is the first period or the 10th, girls feel better when they have a plan for dealing with problems. We also encourage girls to help each other because we’re all on the same team, and nobody wants to be embarrassed by a period accident. But when there is no one she feels she can turn to, it’s always a great idea to carry a small case with the essentials of some pads, wipes and maybe a pair of black leggings. This can fit in her back pack and give her the security that she can handle anything that may come her way.
Will it hurt?
Girls have a lot of questions or concerns about pain related to their periods and tampons. It can help girls to understand WHY they might have pain, so with periods, pain can occur when the uterus (which is made of muscle) is working hard to push out the menstrual fluid. And just like any hard working muscle can cramp, so can the uterus. To ease the pain, think of the things that make any sore muscle feel better – heat, stretching, exercise or over-the-counter pain relievers, if necessary. And when it comes to using tampons, we like to remind every girl that she is in control of her body. Since she inserts the tampon herself, she won’t hurt herself. Instead, if tampon insertion is painful, she will stop and try a different approach that is more comfortable. Letting her know she is in control of deciding when she’s ready (or not) to use a tampon and she is in control of inserting it goes a long way toward making her feel more confident trying.
How do I know if someone likes me?
While all the body changes are happening, there are also changes in brain growth and emotions that may make you feel a new type of attraction for others. It’s normal to want to be seen as “liked” by someone special, but these new feelings can also be awkward and confusing. If you find yourself “liking” someone and wondering if they like you back, it’s most important to just be yourself and try to be comfortable talking and hanging out around them. Maybe you’ll be great friends, or maybe there will be something more. Don’t feel pressured by others to “go out” with someone. Instead, enjoy getting to know that person and trying to be yourself without feeling the need to act silly or aloof. Once you can be your true self, that other person will get to know the real you better. We like to encourage girls to follow the Golden Rule of treating others (friends and crushes) the way they want to be treated themselves. If you can relax and be yourself around others, then people will like you for who you are – and those friends (and sweethearts) will be best and truest of all.