As parents, one of the first things we need to do as we prepare to talk with our girls about puberty is to get our ideas and information clear and together. However talking with our daughters about puberty is about more than information – it is also about sensitivity, relationship and long-term equipping of our daughters for adulthood. In the Christian context we are helping our daughters to understand that: you are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.1
Puberty is distinguished from adolescence. Puberty is physical and encompasses the physical changes that occur in a girl’s body as she grows toward adulthood, including menstruation. Puberty in girls will usually occur anywhere between the ages of eight and 14 years2. Adolescence includes puberty but also encompasses the psychological and broader health and development issues of the young person within their culture. In this regard, adolescence will vary from one culture to another and may not even exist in some cultures.3
We would suggest that talking about puberty is one part of preparing for adolescence and should be a part of the many ongoing ‘talks’ that we have with our daughters from an early age to adulthood. We need to be continually ‘educating’ our daughters on how to view their body, its changes and their sexuality. To wait until you notice the physical changes in your daughter is leaving it far too late. The sexualisation of our girls4 through magazines, billboards, advertising and other media images will have already taken hold. Therefore ‘educating’ our daughters is a continual process (from a very young age) of encouraging a positive and godly self-image, while answering their questions on sexuality in an honest, age-appropriate manner. Through this process we are sowing the seeds in their mind and equipping them for longer-term biblical attitudes and behaviour.
Some practical hints:
- Develop your own understanding of a biblical approach to sexuality. 6
- Purchase some basic resources that will enable you to understand the female body. 7
- Teach your daughter of the ‘unfading beauty which is of great worth in God’s sight’ irrespective of the many changes to her body throughout life.8
- Develop your daughter’s understanding of God’s design for her body and his gift of sex within a marriage relationship.9
- Scan the internet for comprehensive and relevant sites.10
- Talk with your daughter’s school and understand the sex education program that is provided and its timing.
- From a young age, use everyday opportunities to talk appropriately about reproduction and sexuality. Pets can often be a helpful introduction as well as various opportunities that arise through the media.
- Answer your daughter’s questions openly and honestly but appropriate to age and stage. This will include questions about bras and breasts, tampons and vaginas, and even penises.
- Ensure that you talk with your daughter about menstruation before her periods begin. In most cases this will need to take place at around age eight to nine. Be observant and aware of your daughter’s development and provide a ‘kit’ and teach her how to use it to attend to her personal hygiene.
- Reassure your daughter that the changes to her body at puberty are normal but occur differently with different girls: comparisons can therefore be unhelpful.
- Provide suitable books for your daughter11 – sometimes she will prefer to read about puberty herself.
- Advise your daughter on how to say ‘no’ to sexual advances from others.
There is no secret formula to what you should say. Each child is different and will be ready to talk with you at different times, in different ways and about different issues on their mind. Keep discussions natural and relaxed, providing a safe environment that your daughter will be happy to return to. Hesitate to push beyond what your daughter is asking and what she is prepared for.
Above all, pray: pray for your daughter, her development to womanhood, your conversations and your relationship – that God will act to hold you close to one another and to him.
You can purchase Judy and Tony Willis' book 'Let's talk about parenting' at Youthworks online bookstore
Tony and Judy Willis have two grown-up daughters and six grandchildren. Through the wisdom gained from over 35 years working with parents, youth and children in the Australian education system as teachers, and in church ministry, they penned Let’s talk about parenting to share their knowledge and experiences.
1 1 Corinthians 6:19–20
2 Royal Australian Society of General Practitioners: http://www.racgp.org.au/familyhealth/Problems_with_puberty_in_girls_child
3 NSW Centre for Advancement of Adolescent Mental Health: http://www.caah.chw.edu.au/resources/gp-section1.pdf
4 Melinda Tankard Reist (Ed), Getting Real, Kindle Edition, 2010.
5 Steve Biddulph, The Secret of Happy Children, Harper Collins, 1993, pp7–29.
6 See: Greg & Amelia Clarke, One Flesh, Matthias Media, 2001, and Tony Payne & Phillip D Jensen, Pure Sex, Matthias Media, 1998.
7 We particularly recommend: Dr Derek Llewelyn-Jones, Everywoman, Penguin, 1998.
8 1 Peter 3:3–4
9 See: Jason Stevens, Worth the Wait, Even Stevens, 2002, http://www.jasonstevens.info
10 See particularly: http://www.raisingchildren.net.au
11 See http://www.amazon.com/Whats-Happening-Body-Book-Girls/dp/1557044449