Dec. 14, 2010 -- Annie Zirkel from Ann Arbor, Mich., is a finalist in the Dear GMA Advice Guru Contest. Read her response to a viewer-submitted question below!
Question from Jennifer in Cincinnati, Ohio "I am the mother of twin pre-teens and I am ready to start navigating the mine field of inevitable puberty. I am amazed that some of their friends have hit puberty at such a young age. How do I best prepare my girls for the changes they will soon see in their bodies? At what age should they first see a gynecologist?"
Your girls are lucky to have you thinking ahead. As you've seen, some girls these days are starting puberty at 8-9 or even younger, so being prepared sooner is wiser.
Here are 10 ways to do that:
1. Re-envision "the talk" as a series of conversations over time covering the different changes they may be experiencing - physical, hormonal, emotional, social, sexual. Be quiet at times so you can hear their concerns.
2. Get your daughters at least one book about puberty to add to, though not replace, your conversations. Read it yourself first so you have up-to-date information. (American Girl's "The Keeping of You" is a good one for 8-12 year olds.)
3. Consider a mother/daughter puberty workshop as one of their/your rites of passage.
4. Help them get comfortable using the language that describes their body so they can appropriately explain their experiences.
5. One very practical concern is what to do when they experience their first menstrual period (menarche). This is often a real worry for girls. Discuss and plan for different possibilities of where this might happen: on the bus, out in public, during class, at soccer practice. Supply them well in advance with the products and information they will need.
6. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology schedule their first appointment with a gynecologist when they are between 13-14. Sooner if there are problems or they become sexually active.
7. Pay attention to your experience. As daughters change, moms often grieve the loss of their little girls who are now moody, irritable and, sometimes, downright disrespectful. Allow yourself space to contemplate what this change means for you.
8. If possible, keep their dad in the loop too so that everyone can appreciate this time.
9. Be their guide. As you make room for the distinct stories they are each creating, remember to share your own puberty story. Include details about how you felt, what helped, what didn't, what would have.
10. Be their rock. Be their rock when they need someone to lean on and be rock solid in the knowledge and guidance you can offer. The experience of shedding childhood is not unlike the experience of a snake shedding its' skin. Just like the snake rubs against the nearest rock in hopes of peeling off its' uncomfortable scales there is a good chance you will be their nearest rock. At these times, while holding them reasonably accountable, it may help to remember that rocks don't take things personally.
Puberty is a challenging and dynamic process. It is physical, emotional, cognitive, social, sexual, exciting and scary. One that speaks of separation but also hopefully bonds you with your daughters in new ways as they join you in dealing with, and needing support for, the issues of womanhood.
From my perspective of having all boys, even with all these challenges, I envy you.
Good luck, Annie