by Lisa Marsh, The AFA's London Correspondent
If you are a single father, raising an adolescent or teenage daughter on your own, having a talk with her about her body can be really difficult. It's hard to know when is the right time. Do you arrange a conversation the moment you notice a slight roundness developing where breasts will be soon? You both may be appalled to realize that you noticed. This is your little girl. You want her to be informed, responsible and savvy to the threat that is called "teenage boys." You want her to stay your little girl. How do you reconcile the two?
These days, the school curriculum includes sex education for children who are 9 to 10 years old. It seems so young, but if you have done the school run lately, you will notice that 10 year old boys look like someone has grabbed them by shoulders and feet and stretched them to an awkward height. Girls' legs are becoming shapely and they are noticing some hair on their legs. Both the boys and the girls are whispering about crushes one minute and furiously playing dodgeball together the next.You may find some hearts with scribbled-out names inside her notebook. Do NOT panic.
Dad, I'll make it easy on you by listing the topics you may need (even if you don't want) to explain. Do not assume what she knows, what her friends talk about in the playground, or how much of the sex ed class she heard while burying her flaming cheeks behind her fingers. There is no hard and fast rule that says you have to do all of the explaining yourself. However, if you are chief cook, laundryman, shopper and source of comfort to your daughter, you are responsible for making sure she is informed, in the most positive way possible.
This is where you may need some help from a sister, aunt or close female friend. Don't completely pass the buck, but
- talk to one of the women in your daughter's life and ask if she is willing to be the touchstone for your daughter's questions.
- Each time you introduce a subject, ask your daughter if she would prefer talking to you, or the woman you chose.
- Break it down into bits, because (cue the sirens and flashing red lights now) telling too much at once is too much information. If you attempt to give her the top to toe explanation too quickly or too much in depth, it's likely that she will say "T - M - I!" (too much information) Stop, right there and then. The topic will come up again when she's ready.
That being said, there are practical reasons why you need to discuss personal subjects. First up is hygiene. You may feel shocked the first time you smell body odor while hugging your little angel or bringing her laundry down to the washer. Get over it quickly. Too much attention paid to this and you will have lost her before you start.
Calmly, bring up the subject of deodorant/anti-perspirant, for instance: "have any of your girlfriends started using deodorant?" If she is ready for this conversation, explain why underarms smell (Google it) and how washing is important. Take her to the shop and let her look at the bottles of deodorant for awhile and smell them until she finds one she likes. Remember to tell her that deodorant goes on after a shower, not instead of one. Whatever you do, do not tease her. She may seem either disgusted or relieved that she knows what to do, or both, and possibly even a little proud of having hit a milestone in her life.
Dad, listen closely. Do not think about killing 2 or 3 birds with 1 stone; there is no need to discuss pimples, vaginal cleanliness and feminine hygiene products all at the same time. One step at a time, or you will lose ground. Do not buy overly scented items, inappropriate for young girls and a possible source of skin irritation. People who clean themselves regularly should not need to use feminine body spray. Anyway, they usually smell like air freshener meant for the toilet. Just give her moisturizing soap of her own that you do not use for her body. Tip - young girls can be rendered hysterical by one stray, adult, pubic hair on a bar of soap.
Oh, please leave a Comment below if there is anything else you want me to blog about in this series