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“Should I Talk to My Boyfriend’s Daughter About Puberty?”

My boyfriend’s 12-year-old daughter, “Sarah,” spends every other weekend at our home. Recently, I mentioned to my boyfriend that Sarah could start her period soon, and it would be a good idea for us to buy some pads to have in case she happens to start while at our house. He agreed, and he asked me if I would tell her about them, feeling that she would probably be less embarrassed talking about pads with me than with him. I was happy to.

When I took Sarah aside, I started the conversation with, “Has your mom talked to you about periods?” Her reply was, “Isn’t that the thing that grown-up ladies get?” It turns out that Sarah’s mom has not talked to her about periods, and she had no idea that she might start hers soon. Sarah and I have a very good relationship and I know she would be comfortable having that talk with me, but Sarah’s mom loathes the idea of me (and doesn’t mind saying so to her kids), and I didn’t want to step on toes and start drama, so I kept my explanation brief. I unwrapped a pad and showed Sarah how it works, I told her about how I started my period at my dad’s house when I was 13, and I encouraged her to ask her mom when she started hers, hoping that would start a conversation that she really needs to hear. But a few weeks have gone by, we’ve heard nothing on the subject, and I doubt that Sarah has asked her mom about periods.

Sarah’s mom is very paranoid about her daughter following in her footsteps and getting pregnant too young, and her approach to that concern so far has been to become furious with Sarah if she finds any evidence that she is interested in boys. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sarah felt apprehensive about broaching any kind of puberty talk with her mom. I’m worried that Sarah might not even know what a period looks like, how it feels, or what it means as far as fertility. My boyfriend wants me to tell Sarah about periods, and to hell with what his ex thinks about it; it’s more important that Sarah knows the facts. I want to tell Sarah too, but I also know that her mom would be pissed, particularly since she has apparently chosen not to share that information with her daughter. My boyfriend and his ex’s relationship is, unfortunately, not amicable in the least, so him asking her to talk to their daughter about periods probably wouldn’t go over very well either. How should we proceed? — Period Peace

First of all, it sounds like you really care about Sarah and want to do the right thing, so I commend you for that. It’s a delicate situation made more sensitive by the fact that, despite living with Sarah’s father, you aren’t married to him so you aren’t a stepparent and your clout and leverage is therefore limited. After all, talking to Sarah — or any kid — about puberty is a parent’s responsibility first and foremost. You aren’t a parent and without Sarah’s mother’s OK, you run the risk of offending her, overstepping your bounds, and creating even more animosity among the adults, which is as detrimental to Sarah’s well-being as her ignorance about her changing body is.

So, what the hell are you supposed to do? Your heart’s in the right place, for sure. And you’re certainly right that Sarah has to learn about the changes she’s about to face — and the sooner, the better. But is it your place to be the one to talk to her? I, personally, don’t think so. At least, you shouldn’t be the sole person to talk to her. If you and your boyfriend are truly unable to broach a conversation on the topic with Sarah’s mother, or you don’t trust that she would actually have “the talk” with Sarah even if she promised to, then your boyfriend needs to take some responsibility. It’s unfair of him to ask you to step into a parental role simply because he feels uncomfortable with certain aspects of the role. It’s his job to talk to his daughter, but he can certainly enlist your help and support.

In that vein, I’d recommend you approach Sarah together. Your boyfriend can introduce the topic — “[Your name] and I wanted to talk to you about some physical changes you’re going to begin experiencing soon” — and you can quickly take over with more specific details. You’d be approaching her as a team, so that if word got back to Sarah’s mother, she wouldn’t be hearing that you and you alone — some woman her ex-boyfriend lives with — taught her daughter about puberty. And if she questioned you about it, you could say truthfully that you were simply supporting your boyfriend since you can speak with more experience on the topic. As you and your boyfriend both talk to Sarah you should stress how important it is that she talk to her mother about menstruation and ask her to buy her the necessary products she’ll need when she starts her period. And then be sure to tell her that you’re always available to answer any questions she may have, but the first person she should try to talk to is her mother. If her mother is unavailable or unwilling to talk with her, you and Sarah’s father are happy to step in.

The most important thing is that Sarah know and understand that changes are afoot and that she has people who love her whom she can turn to with questions and support.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

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{ 95 comments… add one }

  • avatar Addie Pray September 30, 2011, 7:37 am

    Great advice, Wendy. LW, I hope you follow that advice. Talk to your boyfriend and see if he is on board for talking to Sarah together. If he’s not, then, frankly, I blame him just as much as Sarah’s mother — it sounds like they’d both rather spare themselves the awkward conversation at the expense of their daughter, who really needs the information. I don’t care that your boyfriend is a man. First and foremost, he’s a parent, with a child who needs some guidance. But based on your letter, it sounds like he is very much aware of Sarah’s needs at the moment and I’m sure he’ll be on board. Good luck!

  • avatar Greebo September 30, 2011, 8:36 am

    I agree Dad should step forward…but if my father had tried to have “the talk” with me, I’d have been too mortified to hear anything he said. I wonder whether Dad can schedule a doctor’s appointment and have a nurse or family doctor explain the biology and anatomical realities of periods, sex, birth control. That leaves Dad to fill in the blanks about social realities, like dating, reputation, consequences, etc.

    And LW–thank you for taking the time to do what’s right by this young girl!

    Btw–this is exactly why I support comprehensive sex ed in schools from a fairly young age. How many kids don’t have anyone to fill in these blanks? And (sadly) how many parents don’t have the necessary basic knowledge themselves?

    • avatar cj September 30, 2011, 8:41 am

      Btw–this is exactly why I support comprehensive sex ed in schools from a fairly young age. How many kids don’t have anyone to fill in these blanks? And (sadly) how many parents don’t have the necessary basic knowledge themselves?

      So true!

    • avatar artsygirl September 30, 2011, 9:25 am

      I remember one of those books – it was titled the “Pearls of Puberty” and was about breast development (and I am only in my mid-twenties).

      • avatar Beckaleigh September 30, 2011, 10:01 am

        I remember reading “Are you there God its me, Margaret” when I was younger and that was the extent of what I learned about puberty.

        Now, there is an American Girl book that discusses all of these issues and more. It talks about proper hygiene, shaving, acne, peer pressure, braces, and of course puberty. I’m reading it to my daughter now and it makes things less embarrassing for her. LW, you should check this out.

        • avatar lets_be_honest September 30, 2011, 10:07 am

          What’s the title?

          • littlelady lillybug September 30, 2011, 11:00 am

            I think its called “The Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls (American Girl Library)” by Valorie Schaefer

            • avatar Slamy September 30, 2011, 12:17 pm

              I had that when I was younger! It really is a good book.

            • avatar Britannia September 30, 2011, 12:46 pm

              I had that book, too, and it was a godsend for dealing with my bodily changes. The only thing it didn’t really address were the emotions that your hormones would start causing, and that was what made puberty rough for me.

            • avatar belongsomewhere September 30, 2011, 2:21 pm

              I was actually going to suggest that the LW buy this book for Sarah and give it to her. Sarah can leave it at her father’s house if she doesn’t want to get into it with her mother. That book is really comprehensive and useful.

          • avatar Beckaleigh September 30, 2011, 11:00 am

            Its called “The Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls.” Its a really great book.

            • avatar lets_be_honest September 30, 2011, 11:30 am

              Just read some reviews. I think I’ll have to get it. Thanks!

        • avatar iseeshiny September 30, 2011, 12:22 pm

          My mom gave me the talk… regularly. Starting at ten. But the book that she got me was called “Changing Bodies, Changing Lives,” and it really did help me, mostly because I was, indeed, often way too uncomfortable to ask my mom questions, mostly because it was a lot of times, TMI. It is fairly frank, though, with lots of stories about teens first experiences, from male, female, straight and gay perspectives iirc.

        • avatar honeybeenicki September 30, 2011, 11:28 pm

          American Girl also has a book for girls about how to handle friends and problems with friends as a tween and teen. I just got it for my step daughter (13, almost 14) and she loves it.

    • CatsMeow CatsMeow September 30, 2011, 11:07 am

      I’m appalled that a 12-year-old doesn’t know this already. I went to CATHOLIC school, and they at least taught us “Family Life” which included the basics of sex and puberty. Even if they cut sex ed out of the curriculum at school, doesn’t this girl have any girl friends? Kids are maturing (physically) WAY earlier than they used to. Plus, EVERY coming-of-age story involving a female has a period story built in somewhere, whether it’s in the movies or TV or books. I feel like I was inundated with period stories when I was her age.

      She might be playing dumb out of embarrassment. She could have ALREADY gotten her period and just didn’t want to tell her dad.

      But if she’s TRULY clueless, I agree with Wendy that it’s the dad’s job AS A PARENT to have this conversation with her, at least so she doesn’t freak out and think she’s dying when she finds blood in her panties.

      • avatar EB September 30, 2011, 3:13 pm

        I agree. I went to catholic school and at age 10 they divided the boys and girls into two rooms and we watched separate videos about our respective “changing bodies”.

        However, I was sick that day so they sent the video along with homework I missed home with a girlfriend who lived in my neighborhood. When she brought it over, I made her watch it with me and imagine our surprise when at the “end” of video, the boy part started. By this age, we knew about sex and the particular mechanics of how it worked but were downright giddy to learn more about the uncontrollable nature of erections and be introduced to the curious concept of “nocturnal emissions” aka wet dreams. Since the rest of our friends demanded to see the video when we told them about our discovery, I conveniently “forgot” to return it until after a friend threw a slumber party/viewing party for half the girls in our grade.

        So on that note, best of luck to the former LW who wants to shield his kids from things that interfere with their moral compass. Lots of parents from my school were super strict/religious, but it only took one guy to get access to porn or one girl to discover Judy Blume’s “Forever” for it to spread like wildfire. It was basically unspoken law that if you discovered something salacious you were obligated to pass it on to your fellow classmates.

        • avatar lets_be_honest September 30, 2011, 3:33 pm

          I’ll confess I am FREAKING out about how soon I have to have more in-depth discussion with my kid. Its funny how quickly we forget how much we knew at those young ages. Its hard now as a mom to not look at her and only think she knows about things like puppies and princesses even though I know I knew a hell of a lot way back when. :( I miss my baby!

        • avatar thyme September 30, 2011, 5:00 pm

          Ha ha ha a “viewing party”? That is hilarious!

      • avatar Niki October 4, 2011, 12:27 pm

        Not that it matters, but it might not be her school system. The school I went to in grade five, was a school where they taught this sort of preliminary sexual biology in grade six; I switched that summer to a different school, where they had taught the subject in grade five, but I was entering the school in grade six. So I skipped over it accidentally.

        Furthermore, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t even remotely broach the subject of periods with my girlfriends until I was in grade 8. Luckily I was blessed with a mother much more supportive than Sarah’s, so I did have a healthy environment to learn about menstruation in, but I I’m not at all surprised to hear about Sarah’s situation; sadly, this is very common.

    • avatar ele4phant September 30, 2011, 12:02 pm

      I agree with you. I can’t imagine a 12 year old girl who would be able to take in anything her father said about sex or her body. I like your suggestion that he schedule an appointment with a nurse, doctor, or counselor. This way he’s no shirking his responsibility, but she’ll be less likely to be embarrassed.

    • avatar zombeyonce September 30, 2011, 2:52 pm

      I agree that hearing about periods from the dad would be mortifying so much so that she may not really hear anything he says. I think seeing a doctor would be helpful, but also really embarrassing. I think a book about it would be the most well-used (though I think the other things should at least be tried in conjunction), as it can be consulted in private.

      When I got my period, I was so embarrassed that I didn’t tell anyone. I just stole my mom’s pads and she finally noticed after a few months and asked me. I never really got a talk about the specifics of periods, either, so when it came time to use a tampon, I used them wrong for a long time until I stumbled upon the correct way (seriously, without a good knowledge of your anatomy, it is very confusing to young girls when no one tells them or shows them pictures about the vaginal canal that the tampon goes in!). Sorry about the TMI, but it’s a whole new world for girls that I think we forget about as women that have dealt with it for so long.

      I had no information about anything specific and no one ever tried to tell me or give me a book about puberty or take me to a doctor, so I think all of those together would be amazing.

      But for heaven’s sake, be careful about the book you give her. I remember reading a book about a girl getting her first period and her mom threw a family party for her talking about her becoming a woman on the cake. I think that book seriously contributed to my embarrassment and secrecy, and there was no freaking way I was ever going to tell anyone so they could show my dad ON A CAKE that I had gotten my period. Terrible idea at an already awkward age.

      • avatar Christy September 30, 2011, 8:34 pm

        I was also too embarrassed to tell anyone when I first got my period! My mom noticed pretty quickly, though, and then she was like, “Why didn’t you say anything?!” Um, maybe because you freaked out when I checked out The Period Book from the library? My parents were super uncomfortable talking about puberty, so the only thing I learned was from our little session at school during sixth grade and that one library book.

        I will say the girl may not be completely clueless in this age of the internet. She might have just been embarrassed by the LW’s question and played dumb. A conversation with her and the boyfriend would probably be a good idea, though.

    • avatar 6napkinburger October 3, 2011, 3:34 pm

      I had the “what is happening to my body book: for girls” book.

      I actually looked through it recently when someone told me that your cervix moves when you get turned on, which is why sex can hurt inside when you aren’t really in the mood (even if you use lube — and why it can feel like they are using battering ram though you have already opened the castle doors in peace). This was earth-shattering news, news which I don’t think you should have to be 25 to receive. So I busted out my book to see if they covered it (answer: sorta).

  • avatar El September 30, 2011, 8:44 am

    Wait, are they not teaching this stuff in school anymore?? Sex ed was part of my health curriculum starting in 5th grade.

    • avatar Greebo September 30, 2011, 9:00 am

      Sadly, in some places, sex education has been totally eliminated. In others (like my high school), it was too little, too late, and mostly consisted of scare tactics. (Imagine telling a lot of HS juniors “sex might be fun, but if you have sex before marriage you’re going to get a disease, girls will get pregnant, and either way your life will be ruined.”. Seriously.)

      A study reported on CNN.com recently showed that in schools where sex ed was cut in Florida, kids believed things like douching with Mountain Dew is like using a spermicide; you can’t get pregnant while you’re on your period; pouring bleach inside yourself will kill any germs spread during sex; you can’t diseases from oral or anal sex. It’s frightening, and it’s sad. I wish I still had the link to that article.

      • avatar MissDre September 30, 2011, 9:03 am

        I grew up with a friend who believed all this crap and she’d argue with me when I tried to tell her it wasn’t true. 3 accidental pregnancies later…

        • avatar Greebo September 30, 2011, 9:09 am

          Can you imagine the damage some of these kids could do to themselves? Bleach?? *winces* Yeah, I knew a few girls who got pregnant because they believed this kind of stuff. And I know people now, in their 30s, who still do.

      • Kate B. Kate B September 30, 2011, 9:26 am

        I went to a private school through high school and I was not taught any of this. I had to learn it on my own. My mom told me a little of it, but she wasn’t comfortable with it. I eventually went to the library and read some books. I can’t remember if it was an article or a column I read somewhere, but I do remember that the high school girl in question honestly had no idea of the connection between sex and pregnancy. I remember a quote something like, “You can’t get pregnant if you do it just for fun.” This was recent, within the last couple of years.

      • avatar El September 30, 2011, 10:13 am

        O_O

        Pouring bleach in your vagina???? This sounds like a Darwin award waiting to happen!

        • avatar silver_dragon_girl September 30, 2011, 11:18 am

          In my 9th grade Health class, one of the stoner girls tried to convince me that if you drank bleach mixed with milk it would enable you to pass a urine test if you’d smoked pot.

          Teenagers are dumb.

          • Budj Budjer September 30, 2011, 11:19 am

            If you drink enough bleach you don’t have to take your urine test.

      • CatsMeow CatsMeow September 30, 2011, 11:13 am

        I teach kids (and adults) about STDs as part of my job. The questions I get amaze me… The soda douche is a popular one. I also get questions about the validity of the “ear wax test” (if you put ear wax in a woman’s vagina and she “jumps”, that means she’s “got something”)… that one gets me every time. I’m making it my life’s mission to dispel that myth once and for all!! Also, “But if I take a shower… that means I’m ‘clean’, right?” …. Uhhh yeah? But it’s not going to prevent or cure infections! The sad thing is, so many of the adults we talk to are just as ignorant, if not more so. The kids are at least open to learning, while the adults think they already know everything there is to know.

      • avatar j September 30, 2011, 1:49 pm

        Periods aren’t sex ed, though. They taught this in 7th grade, separated the boys and girls and talked about changing bodies and what the biology of it was, no sex talk involved.

        • avatar El September 30, 2011, 2:28 pm

          “Periods aren’t sex ed, though”

          It sure was according to the Illinois Department of Education in the 90s. Sounds like kids in your school district aren’t being properly educated on these topics.

    • avatar Greebo September 30, 2011, 9:00 am

      Sadly, in some places, sex education has been totally eliminated. In others (like my high school), it was too little, too late, and mostly consisted of scare tactics. (Imagine telling a lot of HS juniors “sex might be fun, but if you have sex before marriage you’re going to get a disease, girls will get pregnant, and either way your life will be ruined.”. Seriously.)

      A study reported on CNN.com recently showed that in schools where sex ed was cut in Florida, kids believed things like douching with Mountain Dew is like using a spermicide; you can’t get pregnant while you’re on your period; pouring bleach inside yourself will kill any germs spread during sex; you can’t diseases from oral or anal sex. It’s frightening, and it’s sad. I wish I still had the link to that article.

      • avatar Greebo September 30, 2011, 9:03 am

        I’m sorry–I have no idea why my posts keep showing up twice.

  • avatar PondLily September 30, 2011, 8:46 am

    If you’ve already mentioned it to Sarah, especially if you said it’s something that usually happens around her age, then at least she has some idea about it and will not be completely shocked the first time she gets her period. If she has more questions than that, she knows now that she can come to you to ask them, but maybe she really isn’t curious just yet. As long as she knows you are there though, she will turn to you when she needs you.

    So I would leave it up to her to decide when she wants more information. Maybe when she hears girls at school are getting theirs and she wants to know more about it. Don’t feel that you need to tell her everything about it now. I had quite a lot of information beforehand, and I still had a million questions once I actually got it for the first time.

  • avatar silver_dragon_girl September 30, 2011, 8:47 am

    I agree. I also think you should keep the initial talk with all three of you very brief, because with both of you there (and especially her dad), she might feel overwhelmed. Just make sure to end it with a strong, “you can come to EITHER of us with any questions” statement.

    I never had “the talk” with anybody, because I was too shy to even talk to my own mother about it. I left her a note, she hugged me, and that was it. :P So, I would say you two should definitely approach her…you really can’t count on 12 & 13-year-olds to ask necessary questions.

    • avatar SpyGlassez October 2, 2011, 4:47 pm

      I never had “the talk” with my mom about periods. That’s because when I told her I noticed dark hair “down there,” she mortified me by calling my grandma and telling her all about how I was starting puberty. They carried on and on. I got my first period at my other grandma’s house, she gave me a pad and told me what to do and heated me a water bottle (I got horrible cramps for years til I finally went on birth control) and that was that. I made sure to tell my much-younger sister that she was probably better talking to me about those things unless she wanted Mom to tell Granny all about her encroaching womanhood.

  • avatar SGMcG September 30, 2011, 9:17 am

    If Sarah spends every other weekend at your boyfriend’s house, shouldn’t he be up-to-date regarding her schooling, including when the sexuality portion of health education is introduced? Last I checked, parenting isn’t an “every other weekend” thing to do. Animosity with the mother be damned, your boyfriend should put his big boy pants on and do what he feels is best for his daughter. This means he could always ask Sarah’s Mom about any permission slips regarding sex education OR take the initiative and give the lecture himself. By no means, should he pass the task solely onto you – he can always ask you to pinch hit when needed for specific questions from the female perspective.

    I know your boyfriend meant well in thinking that she would probably be less embarrassed talking about pads with you than with him, yet Sarah could also just be easily ashamed that someone who isn’t her parent isn’t giving her the sex lecture she should be getting. I remember getting the lecture from ALL sorts of people since the 3rd grade (AIDS was prevalent in the news broadcasts and the principal in our school at the time insisted that the children be well versed in current events), yet the things I was taught by my Dad (in conjunction with my Mom) are the things that I remember most. It also made me feel happy that my parents considered me grown-up enough to be able to have these conversations with them and I was proud of hitting that benchmark.

  • avatar Wendy September 30, 2011, 9:25 am

    I think Wendy’s advice is good, especially about starting together so Sarah’s dad is part of it and the mother can’t be all “can you believe what that bitch did”, but actually, she’s going to be like that anyway.

    I think this might be more angsty than it needs to be, because really, there’s a long tradition in our society of girls hearing about all this from people who aren’t their mothers… they hear it from friends’ mothers, from friends’ older sisters, from older girls they shouldn’t really be running around with, etc.

    It’s possible there’ll be some anger, but everyone will get over it. It doesn’t sound like things can get too much worse.

    My mother was too shy to say anything to me, which was fine by me. But even my mother, with whom I had a good relationship–it’s not like I was going to go home and say “guess what Kristi’s mom told me!”. Sarah isn’t going to go home and tell her mother “You know how you hate my dad’s girlfriend? Well, she told me that I’m going to get my period soon, and she bought me some pads, and she says after I get my period I’ll be able to have babies!”

  • avatar callmehobo September 30, 2011, 9:34 am

    I definitely get where you are coming from. I was VERY young when I got my first sex talk from my parents (6 or 7), however, my boyfriend was much older. Aaaand it wasn’t so much of a talk as it was his parents giving him a book from the church library. Aaaand his mom’s a nurse and his dad is a biology professor…

    So when the bf’s younger brother started getting a little older, he felt that it was his responsibility to talk to the brother and explain sex and STDs to him.

    However, you don’t have the benefit of being related to Sarah, but bless you for caring enough to want her to be educated. Tell your boyfriend to put on his Dad pants and grow UP! If he wants his daughter to be in the know, then he needs to be the one feeding her information. It’s uncomfortable- but get over it.

    This is the stuff that ultimately strengthens the father-daughter relationship. By showing Sarah that he can talk to her about things as awkward as periods and penises, he’s letting her know that NO topic is off limits with him. He’s missing out on a big opportunity by trying to slough it off on you. You can help him and be his cheerleader, but he really needs to be front and center in this situation.

    Good luck!

    • avatar Miss Lynn September 30, 2011, 11:48 am

      You had a much older boyfriend when you were 6 or 7?? Just curious if that is what you meant, because all I can picture is a 12 or 13 year old dating a 6 or 7 year old…

      • avatar Rachel September 30, 2011, 12:20 pm

        I think she means her *current* boyfriend was much older than 6 or 7 when he learned about sex.

      • TaraMonster TaraMonster September 30, 2011, 12:23 pm

        I’m pretty sure she’s talking about her current boyfriend. She was 6 or 7 when she got her first sex talk. He was 12 or 13 when he got his first sex talk…

      • avatar callmehobo September 30, 2011, 2:14 pm

        Hahahha- No, I was not some super worldly 1st grader… My current boyfriend was like 14-15 when his parents gave him the book

  • Public Pearl Public Pearl September 30, 2011, 9:51 am

    Man, poor kids today, not forced to sit through the ~Your Changing Body~ filmstrips sponsored by Stayfree or whoever (fill out the address card and get a free box of samples in the mail!). I think we started watching those in fourth grade (while the boys were shuffled off to the gym). I don’t remember them being about sex so much as they explained the complete horror show that is being a woman.

    • avatar silver_dragon_girl September 30, 2011, 10:02 am

      Did you see the one where she goes on a picnic with her mom and dad the day she starts her period? That’s how ours ended…even the teacher made fun of it.

    • Skyblossom Skyblossom September 30, 2011, 10:28 am

      They showed the latest version to my daughter last year.

    • Jess Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com September 30, 2011, 11:20 am

      LOL! Thank you for this very accurate flashback.

    • avatar belongsomewhere September 30, 2011, 2:28 pm

      Ha! Ours was the cast of Annie on Broadway talking about their first periods backstage. I think it was sponsored by Kotex.

      • avatar Ktfran September 30, 2011, 2:42 pm

        That’s the same one I watched belongsomehwere. And Public Pearl – I was also in 4th grade. The boys did something else while the girls watched.

        Sex ed was in 5th grade and they seperated the boys and the girls. Then again, I went to Catholic grade shcool.

  • avatar MissDre September 30, 2011, 9:01 am

    In addition to Wendy’s advice, maybe try giving her a book about sex ed, one specifically aimed at teens (not little children). She can keep it at your place (so her mom doesn’t flip) and use it for reference if/when she’s too shy to ask questions.

    That’s what I did as a pre-teen. A lot of the time I was too shy but I still wanted information. So I devoured books. I think it’s important that she at least have information available to her.

    • Jess Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com September 30, 2011, 11:19 am

      Yes, but have the DAD present it to her for the same reasons Wendy outlined. There should be good web resources to point her too as well.

      • avatar Michele September 30, 2011, 11:36 am

        Agreed! Perhaps they could both sit down with Sarah (like Wendy suggested) and have a brief conversation to open up the lines of communication. Then dad could present her with the book and let her know that she can come to either of them with any questions she has.

        My mom gave me a book like that and it was helpful for me because at that age I was so shy! Even though my mom and I were close, I was too embarrassed to ask really specific questions and the book helped to answer them.

    • avatar ele4phant September 30, 2011, 12:08 pm

      I really like this suggestion as well. While I was able to talk comfortably with my mom about puberty, for questions about sex I was too mortified. She was a the high school librarian, so sometimes she would bring new books home before taking them to the library. A book about sex, dating, and sexuality was “left” out, and of course I found it, and read it all. Later, I found it on my little brother’s book self. I think by just leaving some information that she agreed with and that was factual out in the open, she was pretty confident we’d find it and naturally be curious.

    • avatar belongsomewhere September 30, 2011, 2:24 pm

      Agreed! I was just about to suggest the same thing. American Girl’s The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls is a really good one. There’s another I had that I can’t remember the name of at the moment, but it explains things like consent and birth control in a clear, simple, un-gross manner. I’ll do some searching to see if I can find it. At the moment I only remember that the cover was black.

      • avatar belongsomewhere September 30, 2011, 2:26 pm

        Oh, and the LW should definitely direct her to sites like gURL and Scarleteen, which have a similar approach.

        • avatar Nadine October 1, 2011, 4:09 am

          Scarlateen is fantastic. It is so comprehensive and non-judgmental and not in a lame way.

        • theattack theattack October 3, 2011, 1:13 am

          I remember being a preteen and wanting to go to the gURL website, but my dad wouldn’t let me. He assumed it was child pornography and blocked it from our computer. :(

  • avatar lets_be_honest September 30, 2011, 10:03 am

    Reading the letter I was curious what everyone would think. Wendy’s advice is great. I would just emphasize speaking to the mother about this first. Give her a chance and if she doesn’t take it, thats her fault then. Certainly keep the dad involved in the discussion so mom doesn’t flip out. Its a scary thing for a young girl and I applaude the girlfriend for trying to help her, but remember you are not the mother, not even the stepmother, so keep respecting those boundaries.

  • avatar AndreaMarie September 30, 2011, 10:18 am

    Echoing what a previous poster said, what are the arrangements in regards to making decisions for Sara? Even though they don’t have a good relationship, does your boyfriend and his ex need to mutually discuss and agree on things like persission slips for school related activities? I remember in 5th grade we had the whole puberty lesson in health class (wasn’t really sex ed). Permissions slips went home. Girls went in one room, boys in the other, and we got all the period talk, lol.

    I honestly don’t think you really need to do much more at this point. You’ve already mentioned it to her and being in school with other 12 year old girls, I’m sure she’ll eventually learn more about it as her friends begin to get their periods. If she gets hers during her stay with your boyfriend, or ask you directly about it, then talk with her. But I think it’s best to just leave it be for now.

    Good look. Sara seems very lucky to have you in her life.

  • avatar AndreaMarie September 30, 2011, 10:18 am

    Echoing what a previous poster said, what are the arrangements in regards to making decisions for Sara? Even though they don’t have a good relationship, does your boyfriend and his ex need to mutually discuss and agree on things like persission slips for school related activities? I remember in 5th grade we had the whole puberty lesson in health class (wasn’t really sex ed). Permissions slips went home. Girls went in one room, boys in the other, and we got all the period talk, lol.

    I honestly don’t think you really need to do much more at this point. You’ve already mentioned it to her and being in school with other 12 year old girls, I’m sure she’ll eventually learn more about it as her friends begin to get their periods. If she gets hers during her stay with your boyfriend, or ask you directly about it, then talk with her. But I think it’s best to just leave it be for now.

    Good look. Sara seems very lucky to have you in her life.

  • Skyblossom Skyblossom September 30, 2011, 10:35 am

    The one thing more that could be done for Sarah is to make an “emergency” pack for her to carry in her backpack. It would have a few pads in it for her to use if her period started at school so that she isn’t caught out with nothing to use. There is no guarantee that it will start at home with her mom available to help.

    • avatar MissDre September 30, 2011, 10:51 am

      Ugh. 7th grade. Mine started at school. And I was wearing white shorts…

  • avatar Elizabeth September 30, 2011, 10:51 am

    Hi to Period Peace!

    I actually work for an organization that promotes sex education and adolescent sexual health services. I sort of disagree with Wendy’s advice… While parents are incredibly important and can make all the difference in the world, we need to remember that young people grow and develop best in a network of caring adults. So, it’s not just mom and dad; it’s mom, dad, doctors, family friend, dad’s girlfriend, teacher, grandma… As someone Sarah trusts and as someone the family trusts, you have a role here.

    I think you’re well within your bounds to talk to Sarah about puberty. At 12, she’s getting that info late (8 or 9 would’ve been ideal.) This would also be a great time to help her learn correct words for body parts – that’s more of a toddler/young kid thing, but important if her parents have been quiet. The boundary where you should really start thinking about bringing in mom and dad is if Sarah reveals she’s sexually active and in need of medical care or if she’s in a relationship. Those conversations about birth control, rules, etc. should definitely involve everyone.

    I do think it would be ideal to have a conversation with Sarah’s mom. Since you spend time with her, you’re in a position to see her grow and develop. Research shows that giving young people info about sex doesn’t make them do it – in fact, research shows that more info actually helps them delay sex longer and be safer when they do do it. (http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/pubs/wov_2010.pdf)

    If you still feel uncomfortable, there are some great websites for teens you can point Sarah to:
    http://www.stayteen.org
    http://www.sexetc.org
    http://www.scarleteen.org
    These three are all reputable, medically accurate, and age-appropriate. Sexetc (run by Rutgers) may have the best puberty information. Scarleteen is a little racier than most (it leaves no stone unturned – sex, LGBT issues, masturbation, rape, etc.) but exists to help teens process issues that are often hidden from them because of perceived or actual controversy.

    I hope these help! Good luck!

    • avatar lets_be_honest September 30, 2011, 12:04 pm

      “The boundary where you should really start thinking about bringing in mom and dad is if Sarah reveals she’s sexually active and in need of medical care or if she’s in a relationship.” I have to completely disagree with this. Do you have children of your own? I can tell you that if someone unrelated was telling my 12 year old about any of the things you just discussed without getting my approval first, I would consider killing them.

      • avatar Shadowflash1522 September 30, 2011, 12:23 pm

        @lets_be_honest:
        Why? I don’t have kids, I am genuinely curious as to your response. She’s suggesting talking about strictly biology: puberty, the medically correct terms for her body, and the facts about sex and sexual health. It’s no more or less than most schools will be teaching a 12-year-old about now. I don’t think she was going to instruct her in promiscuity or supply her with condoms…

        • avatar lets_be_honest September 30, 2011, 12:52 pm

          I think its the parents’ role first and foremost. Its up to them how to decide what information they are comfortable with and how to share it. From what I understand, prior to your kid being in a sex ed type of class, there would be a persmission slip sent to the parents for their ok first.

          • avatar lets_be_honest September 30, 2011, 12:55 pm

            In a situation where the parents are unwilling to discuss this, thats a different story. If the girl came to you asking, and said she couldn’t talk to her parents, thats also a different story. I’m all for sex education and prevention, don’t get me wrong.

            • avatar Shadowflash1522 September 30, 2011, 2:00 pm

              Hmm. I don’t recall ever getting a permission slip in grade school or in high school, but I went to private Catholic schools which can get away with a lot more in general…

              I can see your point about it being the parents’ role first and foremost, insofar as the health and well-being of their children is their first concern. However, I’m not sure I agree with the idea of the parents’ comfort being put ahead of the child being well informed. If a paranoid or embarassed parent’s idea of keeping their child safe means keeping her daughter in the dark about inevitable bodily functions such as periods and sexual desire, is it ethical to bow to their wishes? That could end up backfiring horribly for both parties.

              Thoughts?

              • avatar lets_be_honest September 30, 2011, 2:06 pm

                You know, this is a really tough call and one of those ‘depends’ situations maybe. I stand by my statement of it being the parents’ decision initially. While I agree that the child being well-informed is of utmost importance, I am looking at this from a parent’s perspective. I want to be the one to tell my child about this stuff and present it in a way I feel comfortable with and that I know (as her parent) she wouldfeel comfortable with. Of course, there are many ill-informed parents out there and parents that will ignore this entirely because its uncomfortable to talk about, and we all know the potential results of that–16 & Pregant for example. Its also different than it was for us. Kids have the Internet to turn to, in addition to ill-informed friends, etc. I guess my stance is that before anyone starts telling a child about sex or anything like it, they should discuss this with the child’s parent first and take it from there.

                • avatar Shadowflash1522 September 30, 2011, 2:21 pm

                  Agreed, it is a tough call.

                  In this case, both parents have decided. It’s just that their decisions are contradictory. One parent wants her to be informed; the other does not. Which one do we honor, and why?

                  Personally, as I stated before, I’m on the side of informed (provided, of course, that the information is accurate and health-related; morality is a whole separate issue). I never had “The Talk” per se. My mom got me a book for the biological stuff and sat me down to talk about ethics when I read my first romance novel, which was an entirely appropriate approach for me.

          • katie katie September 30, 2011, 8:04 pm

            ah, unfortunately, though, parents all across the board are unable to fulfill their “roles”

            kids need to know stuff, and if the parents are too dumb/awkward to talk with them and let them ask questions, they give up that right, i believe.

          • avatar savannah September 30, 2011, 8:13 pm

            Permission slips are really a state by state practice just as sex ed and health ed. policies and classes vary greatly in different states and even in different school districts. Even then, the option for parents to ‘opt-out’ usually only includes classes which provide information that is not strictly pro abstinence-only or gives information about different types of sexuality. Of course you don’t need to opt-out if your school teaches absolutely no sex ed but only heath ed (which would include information about menstruation) or best of all, no classes that touched on any of this.

    • TaraMonster TaraMonster September 30, 2011, 12:36 pm

      I agree with you. I can see from this thread that my opinion probably won’t be the most popular, but as someone who did not have a mom around, and had my father’s girlfriend (now his wife) tell me the basics, I actually really hope the LW DOES talk to Sarah. My mom is a freak about anything sexual/body oriented, and my dad… well he’s my dad. So no thank you. If the LW’s boyfriend and the ex have anywhere close to as tense a relationship as my parents had, this point of contention is probably just par for the course.And the best thing for *Sarah* is to get good, helpful, accurate information about her body from someone she feels safe around.

      Maybe I didn’t notice someone mentioning it, but what about Our Bodies Ourselves?
      http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book/

      I also find it a little weird that some ppl think Sarah is lying about her period knowledge. Her response to the LW doesn’t sound like a shy evasion to me, and the LW seems bright enough to tell the difference, imo.

      • TaraMonster TaraMonster September 30, 2011, 12:42 pm

        Let me clarify that by “not around” I do not mean my mom was uninvolved. She was just physically far away. But her sex talks were terrifying and awkward because she’s mentally ill. Sarah’s mom may not be mentally ill, but her sexual hangups (as described by the LW) seem to be preventing her from even telling her daughter she’s about to get her period.

        I just think preventing a Carrie situation in any and all ways is always a good move. Juss sayin.

  • avatar have you ever met a 12-year-old? September 30, 2011, 11:20 am

    Um – the first rule of dealing with a 12-year-old (boy or girl) is that you need take whatever comes out of their mouth with a grain of salt. All really have here is LW’s impression that the daughter has not been taught these hygiene basics. Tosh. My bet is that the daughter is simply weirded out by LW’s focus on these extremely private matters and is just hoping it will stop. Communication shut down is to be expected here. Worst case is a rushed trip to Walgreens. Let it go, the mom will handle it just fine.

    • avatar lets_be_honest September 30, 2011, 11:48 am

      So every time your 12 year old doesn’t want to communicate, parents should expect the “communication shut down” and hope the worst case scenario is a quick trip to Walgreens? Great advice. I wish my Walgreens sold solid, smart parents like yours apparently does.

      • avatar have you ever met a 12-year-old? September 30, 2011, 12:09 pm

        Of course not, it’s a parent’s job to manage the communication as required – a critical skill that will determine, to a large degree, how the child will develop into an adult. But that’s my point. It’s the *parent’s* job, not some random boyfriend/girlfriend. LW is leaping to the conclusion that the mom is neglecting her daughter’s education just because the daughter might not want to open up. She should back off.

        • avatar lets_be_honest September 30, 2011, 12:12 pm

          Glad you replied, I obviously misunderstood your point. I’m a big advocate that unless you know for a fact that the mother is unwilling and incapable of talking to her daughter, leave it to the mother.

  • mllryjo Thermidor September 30, 2011, 11:22 am

    Just a thought, I know when I started my period I REFUSED to talk to my mother about it (I started young and I thought if I ignored it, it would stop.) So she bought one of those books aimed at explaining puberty to young girls. You could ask your boyfriend to buy once of these and give to it Sarah, (or even better, just leave it sitting around, that’s what my mom did. Sparked my curiosity finally…) And if Sarah mentions it to her mom, your boyfriend can say honestly that HE bought it for her as her father. You can just put a little note on top from him saying “X and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have about anything in here.”

    I hope this doesn’t seem like stepping on the mother’s toes, but I think if your boyfriend bought it that is totally in his rights/responsibilities as a father. To appeal to the mother, you can just make sure it’s a book that doesn’t even discuss boys or sex at all, just the plain old facts in cartoon form. If I can find the one my mom bought, I’ll try to add a link.

  • avatar Just Max September 30, 2011, 10:41 am

    I think Wendy’s advice is great; and I commend the LW for caring so much for Sarah. Have your boyfriend introduce the subject, like Wendy said, and take over the topic. But please do have this conversation with her. I wish someone, whomever, had had this talk with me while growing up; my (divorced) parents certainly didn’t, and the very awkward talk my school gave us was lacking. Eventually, before I went to college, one of my uncles finally told me about condoms and safe sex.
    So, what I am trying to say is that, it is in the child’s best interest that _someone_ talks to her about the changes in her body, and sex, and the whole “TALK.” Yes, it’d be best if the parents had the talk with her, but that is not always the case.

    Oh, and a book is never a bad idea. One of my young cousins has had this book since she is 8 years old; it has been a great introduction to the topic, and the starter of many open conversations:

  • avatar KarenWalker September 30, 2011, 1:05 pm

    I’m curious to know what school your boyfriend’s daughter attends. If she’s 12, she’s probably in 7th grade. The school should have taught puberty by now. I went to Catholic school and we learned about puberty and periods in the spring of 5th grade, when most of us were 10. (Did anyone else have to watch the video starring the Broadway (?) cast of Annie??) This was a few months too late for me – I got my period in February of 5th grade! Luckily, I had already talked with my mom (and friends) about it by then so I had an idea of what was happening.
    I agree that this is a conversation Sarah should have with her mother. Your boyfriend should be the one to bring this up to her so they can decide how to approach this as Sarah’s parents. However, if her mother refuses to step up to the plate, I do think you should talk to her. I would have died if I ever had to talk to my dad about periods/puberty; I suppose it really depends on the relationship they have to determine whether or not it would be appropriate to have him present when the conversation happens.
    P.S. Kudos to Sarah for having formed her own positive opinion of you despite having her mother expressing how she loathes you! Seriously, Sarah sounds like an awesome, smart kid!

    • avatar belongsomewhere September 30, 2011, 2:32 pm

      Haha, I just wrote above about the Annie video. I’m glad someone else remembers it.
      I agree with you that the LW should take it into her own hands if Sarah’s mom won’t and her boyfriend would like her to. Her boyfriend should probably talk to his ex about it.

  • avatar Shadowflash1522 September 30, 2011, 2:14 pm

    LW, I think you have conducted yourself admirably so far and I commend you for looking out for this kid :)

    That said, here are my thoughts:

    1. Your talk with Sarah about the pads you will be keeping around for her was a perfectly appropriate opening move. There’s no point in stocking pads if she doesn’t know what they are or what they’re for, but Wendy’s right, it’s not technically your place to give her the whole “birds and the bees” talk. Let mom have a legitimate shot first.

    2. Now that you’ve let Sarah know that you’re willing and able to talk to her about this stuff, back off. If she feels uncomfortable or uninformed, she knows she can come to you and will do so. Kids are (for the most part) not completely stupid.

    3. Contrary to most of the opinions here, I would not let the politics of the adults dictate how this is handled. When I was 12 (which wasn’t that long ago) I would rather have had an unrelated woman give me the talk in private than have dad sitting in the room, let alone him giving the talk. I would have neither understood nor appreciated the politics of his involvement; it would have been embarassing and counterproductive. What matters is that The Talk, when it happens, is held in a frank and honest manner. If Sarah feels like she can’t get that from her mother then it is entirely appropriate that she get it from you, but that has to be her decision, not yours or her dad’s or her mother’s. She’s twelve, not two. She can decide who she wants to confide in. Adding adult politics will only make this messier and more confusing for her.

    Good luck!

    • avatar lets_be_honest September 30, 2011, 2:23 pm

      This is really perfect.

    • avatar savannah September 30, 2011, 8:31 pm

      I totally agree with what you’ve written. What her parents are doing to her is really an act of cruelty by way of their own parental limitations and own issues about sexuality. Those might be strong words but my mother didn’t get ‘the talk’ (its horrifying to think some kids get only one opportunity to ask questions and process these issues) and she really believed she was dying when she got her period. I can’t believe how traumatic that must have been and this went on for months until she reached out to her own mother eventually. That whole experience was totally and completely avoidable. And to commentators who say talking with her dad is too awkward, it would not be if he was talking to her about this when she was five or seven, thats what is so frustrating. Twelve is just so late to start having these types of conversions. I never understand how parents can rationalize these limitations away when other less important lapses are agonized over.

  • avatar Phoenix September 30, 2011, 2:44 pm

    When you and your bf are preparing to talk with her there are a lot of great organizations with good solid information to help you. I am a community sex educator, and you would be surprised at the resources out there for young people. http://www.sexetc.org is great because it is by teens for teens.
    http://www.advocatesforyouth.org has great resources for parents as well as their children. Most Planned Parenthood affiliates have a mother/daughter class that is excellent for opening that door and helping it to remain open so that it’s not just one talk and over. It becomes more of a long term conversation.
    http://www.stayteen.org is good as kids go from being pre-teens to teens.
    http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu is great as they become college students and adults.
    These are just a few of the free resources available out there for parents, teens and those concerned about the proper education of young people.
    Knowledge is power. The more they know, the better the choices they can make for their life, health and their eventual partners.

  • avatar applescruff September 30, 2011, 3:10 pm

    I had a single dad when I was that age, who showed up at my bedroom door one afternoon with a box of pads and the “What’s Happening to My Body Book for Girls.” He handed them to me, and told me he didn’t really know a lot about what was happening, but he had a mom and a sister growing up so he could probably answer questions. Mortifying as it was, the book was very useful. I’ve also heard scarleteen.com is a good website for teens who need information about sex, periods, etc. Still, when it came down to questions about cramps and other stuff like that, I went to my dad’s girlfriend. Best of luck with this, Sarah is lucky to have someone like you in her life.

  • katie katie September 30, 2011, 7:57 pm

    ok, i say that circumstances be damned, this girl needs to know information about her own body. yes, try to do in the right way (having you and your boyfriend there is the best approach i think as well), but if he is unwilling because it will be awkward, and if the mother continues being so stupid, seriously, please tell this girl what is going on.

    i never got a talk about anything. AND, i didn’t go to school, i was homeschooled, so i didnt have anyone else’s moms, or friends to tell me what happens. AND, i dont have any extended family that will speak to my family, so there were never any aunts/cousins in the picture. i literally thought that i was dying. the first 3-6 months i had my period i thought i was about to die and i would cry. it was terrible. i dont even remember when i finally figured out what was going on, but the only time i had to ask my dad to stop at the store, he grumbled because we didnt need any groceries, and i said that i needed girl stuff, and he seriously did not say another word to me in the car, went to the store, handed me a 20, and stayed in the damn car….

    so please, for her own sanity, just make sure this info gets passed along.

    • avatar thyme September 30, 2011, 8:13 pm

      Wow, I’m sorry your dad was so lame about it! My dad was more the type to make a big embarrassing deal out of it and want to through a party, etc. I’m not sure which is better?

      • katie katie September 30, 2011, 8:51 pm

        yea it was pretty terrible… im fairly certain that he was in the same camp that sarah’s mom is in with the whole being afraid of anything related to boys and sex, and by extension, periods.

        i would have honestly taken the embarrassment to have the knowledge that would have (hopefully) went with something like wanting to throw a party (that is very funny!)… but, equally tramatizing for a young girl probably, lol.

  • avatar tinywormhole October 1, 2011, 9:30 pm

    I have to say that I totally disagree with this statement in Wendy’s advice: “you aren’t married to him so you aren’t a stepparent and your clout and leverage is therefore limited.” I grew up with two stepparents. My stepdad was married to my mom from the start, but my dad and stepmother did not marry for about 10 years. To say that she wasn’t a stepparent because she wasn’t legally married to my dad is ridiculous, given how deeply she integrated herself into the family and the permanence of it (not that it was always a pleasant thing but that’s a whole other story…)

    What I’m saying is that it’s ridiculous to define the letter writer’s role as a stepmother by the legal status of the relationship. If the girl’s mother is not adequately preparing her for puberty, I feel it is well within the right of the LW to bring these things up, with the full support of the dad.

  • theattack theattack October 3, 2011, 1:30 am

    Well, she’s 12. I’m betting she does know something about it, even if she doesn’t want to talk about it. I’m sure she has a lot of questions and has learned a lot of myths that need to be cleared up, but she probably knows something. When I was SIX I had already learned what sex was out on my own in first grade. I’m sure a 12 year old girl knows what happens when you have a period, even if she doesn’t know the hows or whys.

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