There’s no right age to talk to about puberty because every child develops differently – surrounded by different people and raised in different homes. South Asians are notorious for withholding information. Let’s be real, we don’t like disclosing private information because we don’t want people to talk about us.
As parents, the first thing we have to do is give our kids an education. We shouldn’t be embarrassed if they say the word penis or vagina at a family party. “Pee-pee,” “shame-shame,” “private parts,” and “hoo-ha” are all slang terms used for genitals. Hiding these terms gives children a sense that there is something to hide. As a medical doctor who treats genitals all day, I can’t escape vulvas, vaginas, perineums, and rectums. Do you know how many of my patients point to their genitals and say the pain is here without knowing the name?! The average woman doesn’t know the difference between her vulva and vagina and it doesn’t even matter to them. So it does matter is that we destigmatize the proper use of vocabulary.
[Read Related: Is it Bollywood’s Job to Provide Sex Education?]
Parents who teach their kids these terms shouldn’t be looked down upon for being liberal, assuming that their kids will go out and be more sexually active in their teen years. Similarly, a lot of South Asian parents are scared to expose their kids to contraception because they fear this could encourage sexual activity. In reality, kids are learning about sex, drugs, and porn by the time they are in middle school. I remember learning about pornography on the school bus from some kids – I didn’t go out asking about it. It came to me on my way home from school!
I often get asked, how parents should approach genitalia and puberty. Here are some tips when breaching these topics.
Don’t Be Nervous; Puberty will Happen
If you are nervous your child will sense it and try to end the conversation before it has even started. Remain calm no matter what. It’s always a possibility that your child will open up and tell you things that he or she already knows or worse, something that may upset you. For instance, you may find out your daughter has already used a tampon. Yes, you wanted to be the one to teach her about them, but you might have been beaten to it by a girl in her class. The calmer you are, the more they inclined they are to share with you.
Get Your Facts Straight
Look up the anatomy and terms if you don’t know them. Kids are sponges and want to know everything so they will absorb every piece of information they receive. You would be surprised at how much detail they want. These are the things they will take with them to adulthood. Kids as young as two will begin to touch and explore their bodies. Your son might ask you why his penis looks different than his father’s or why his sisters don’t have a penis. Don’t be scared to use proper anatomical terms. Remember they will feed off of you.
Show Your Daughters How to Use Menstrual Products
It may seem simple but most young girls cannot figure out how to insert a tampon on their first try. Remember if it’s painful, it’s not normal and could be a sign of vaginismus. Teach them about menstrual cups a relatively newer alternative to tampons and pads, and since they are reusable it’s cost-effective and eco-friendly.
Women struggle with leaks their entire life but as a young child or woman, the embarrassment that comes along with an accident can be devastating. Talk to your child about period proof panties like Thinx that can be used as back up to pads/tampons or used alone on light days.
Talk About Safe Sex
Most schools in the United States have a health class that will dive into puberty, sex education, and contraception, or so you would think. Just as you would ask about what they learned in social studies, ask about what they learned in their health class. If they are not learning about sexual health and their bodies’ transformation in school, teach them at home.
And lastly, something that has resonated with me over the last few years with the #MeToo movement: Yes means yes and no means no. Consent is important. We should be teaching our daughters and sons that their bodies are sacred and should be respected and honored.
This is not about being a “cool parent,” as much as it is about having an open relationship with your child. As a mother of young girls, I want them to know the facts about their body, be aware of conditions that may affect them, and to know that I am there for them to discuss anything that they have questions about. I don’t want them to feel any shame when it comes to their genitals and have fears when they talk about anything that could be affecting them.
If you would like to try Thinx panties and want to a nudge, feel free to use the code TAYYABA for $10 off your first order and check out THINX (BTWN): the *new* line of super-absorbent underwear specially made for young people with periods.