I used to think being a young mum was going to give me the total upper hand on my girls when they reached their teenage years – a fairly wild teen myself, I was pretty sure they couldn’t possibly come up with any tricks I hadn’t already tried. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt… I didn’t count on the internet being such a game changer. It’s a big, scary world out there, far scarier than the one I grew up in – I was 15 before I even knew what the internet was, now my eleven-year old is stalking me on Instagram and using Google to research her homework topics. While I supervise her online activity stringently, it’s impossible to control the flow of information! So when it comes to the ‘big issues’ – things like puberty and sex – I’m trying to seize the opportunity for a pre-emptive strike. If I reassure her that she can talk to me, she’ll be less likely to consult Dr Google, and even if she does, at least she’ll have some context around what she finds online. The question is where to start?
I’ve been through this puberty thing twice before – once myself, of course, and the second time with my stepdaughter – but it still terrifies me. They had the first round of ‘the talk’ at school last year (like, THE talk), and they’ll have the next installment later this year, so Maya isn’t totally clueless. She knows where babies come from, she knows a little about periods, and we talk about hormones and how they make you emo all the time – like All. The. Time. But if I talk to her about the mechanics of sex, do I then need to talk to her about safe sex and contraception? Will talking about it make her MORE likely to do it, or LESS? And how do I broach the subject without being met with eye-rolls and exasperated sighs? I can just hear her now – ‘Muuum! That is soooo AWKWARD!’ Shudder!
Enter the Girlfriend Guide to Life, a book which doesn’t just discuss all things awkward, it even says ‘awks’ on the front cover. Aimed at tweens and teens, it covers everything – periods, hormones, body changes, emotions, relationships, contraception, body image, eating disorders… It’s a comprehensive little text! Compiled by the team at Girlfriend magazine in conjunction with experts in sexual health communication from the University of Queensland, it’s laid out magazine-style with lots of photos, pull-quotes and real-life stories which makes it appealing to its target audience, while also being packed with accurate, age-appropriate information to reassure parents.
It’s the first book I’ve come across on growing up that doesn’t make me cringe, and the fact that it comes from Girlfriend gives it serious street cred with Maya. When I told her I was getting a book about puberty I got the aforementioned eye-roll response, but once it actually arrived, she decided it wasn’t so awkward after all. We’ve been through a couple of chapters together, we’ve got a couple more to look at, and there are a few more chapters I don’t think she’s quite ready for yet that we’ll keep for later on. It may not be the be-all-and-end-all solution, puberty still scares me witless, but it helped to open up a dialogue between us, and that dialogue has helped me work out a little more about what she knows, what she needs to know, and what she doesn’t need to know for the moment, and as far as I’m concerned that’s a win.
Talking of winning, thanks to the team at Girlfriend who sent me a copy of the Girlfriend Guide to Life to review, I’ve also got two copies to give away, so if the word ‘puberty’ makes your hair stand on end too, click on the pic below to enter. Entry is open to all residents of Australia and New Zealand.