Parenting teenagers can be daunting, and because this sneaks up on you sooner than you think, it’s wise to prepare for this milestone early, ie while your daughter’s a tween – or before her hormones kick in and turn her into an alien.
In many ways, the ‘generation gap’ has become the ‘communication gap’. IGens (millennials who have grown up with smartphones, the internet and social media) communicate very differently to the way their moms did at the same age.
Anything they want to know can be found on the internet. But while technology and artificial intelligence may have boosted your daughter’s general knowledge, she is nevertheless human, with human needs, and her body has been programmed for reproduction. Her head will be full of questions about what’s going to happen when she starts growing up and having periods. As her mom (auntie or granny) you’re the best person she can talk to.
What is a tween?
Think of this stage as the ‘warm-up’ to puberty. Tweens (aged 10-13) have reached double-digits, but they’re not teenagers yet. Too old to be a child, too young to be a teenager, tweens often find it difficult to fit in and aren’t quite sure where they stand in the pecking order.
A tween’s hormones are beginning to hum, but they’re not active yet. They’re curious about sex, babies and boys.
Tweens become more abstract and creative in their thinking. According to Dr J Giedd, chief of brain imaging in the child psychiatry branch at the National Institute of Mental Health, Maryland US – who has been studying the behaviour of teenagers for decades – this is because neurons (grey brain matter) peak when girls are 11 (boys at 12½). After that it thins out at the rate of 0.7% every year until their early 20s. Neurons control muscle and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self-control. At the same time, myelin sheaths (these make nerve signal transmissions faster and more efficient) are thickening. This means fewer but faster connections in the brain during puberty. This may be one of the reasons why teenagers are ready to fire questions and question authority.
Tweens start taking a different look at the world around them and enjoy mastering new skills. While they’re sometimes unsure about responsibilities, they prefer taking responsibility. They’re beginning to reason logically and are able to think through simple situations.
What your daughter wants to know
Your daughter wants to know how her body is going to change (not strictly why), so spare her a lecture about hormones, eggs, sperm and sex until (or if) she asks. She wants to know when her body is going to change, and what to do when it does.
Pre-puberty begins with subtle hormonal, physical, social and emotional changes. It takes about two years to reach puberty. After puberty it will be another two years before she has her first period (called menarche). This usually happens around the age of 11-13, but it’s not unusual for girls to start having periods as early as nine, or as late as 16.
Tween girls are often horrified at the idea of having periods, wearing a bra, having to deal with pubic hair, pimples and boys. Be prepared to answer awkward questions at inconvenient times. Keep the lines of communication open with simple, honest, straightforward answers.
Talk to your daughter about pads and periods. Show her how to use them. Tell her that although she may think she is bleeding to death, she will only lose about 4-6 tablespoons of blood in the few days she has her period. She’ll need to know how often she should change her pad. Give her tips about where to keep her pads, how to change them at school, and what to do when visiting friends or going out for the day when she has her period.