Nadia Sawalha on how to talk about puberty with your teenager
Parents and offspring often share a mutual dread at the idea of having 'the talk' but the popular TV presenter and her 13-year-old daughter say there are ways to minimise the embarrassment.
No matter how close you are to your kids, there are always going to be conversations that are difficult to have with them.
One of the hardest, of course, is talking to teens about puberty, both because it's a sensitive, very personal subject, and because teenagers are very easily embarrassed.
Indeed, new research suggests 68% of parents are unsure about how to even start the puberty conversation, and a quarter avoid the talk completely, leading to more than half of teenagers (53%) obtaining information and advice from friends and the internet, and 6% even preferring text or WhatsApp to get their information.
Yet it's clear parents want to help their teens - 76% of mums and dads say they'd like their teenager to see them as the first port of call for help and advice, and 49% of teens said they were happiest speaking to their mum about such personal issues.
But although it's teens who need advice, it may be parents themselves who need the initial help to show how best to initiate and then have a successful chat about puberty.
So TV presenter and mother-of-two Nadia Sawalha has teamed up with Boots to help launch a guide, #TeenTalk, to help make the process easier.
Sawalha, whose daughter Maddie is 13, says: "As a mum, I understand all too well the challenges of communicating with teens. They suddenly go from wanting to tell mum everything, to one-word answers, and you can't solve things with a quick cuddle or a sweet treat.
"First shaves, first periods and new personal hygiene and skincare regimes are all unfamiliar experiences for teens and can be difficult topics for parents to approach." She points out that this is the first generation of mums going through the puberty conversation with a child so connected to social media, and says: "It's difficult. Just like our teens, we're figuring it all out as we go."
Campaign expert and 'teenologist' Sarah Newton says: "The teen talk can be awkward because parents and children probably haven't had a conversation that's this important yet, and we put lots and lots of pressure on ourselves to get it right."
The #TeenTalk research found that only a third of teens are comfortable talking about personal care (body odour and skin), just a quarter are comfortable talking about bodily changes during puberty. Only 18% find it easy to talk about menstruation.
Yet a third of teens don't feel very confident about having a chat with their mum about puberty either.
Sawalha's daughter Maddie says: "I know that talking to mum might not always seem like the easiest thing to do, especially about topics like puberty. Sometimes you don't feel like talking and sometimes you have lots of questions, but might feel a bit embarrassed.
"But remember, they've been through it too and they know everything you're experiencing is completely natural, so just keep talking."
Newton stresses there's no right or wrong way to prepare a teenager for puberty, although 40% of parents think the best way to start the conversation is to have a one-on-one chat with their teen, and the majority said their best advice for the chat is to "be honest and open".
Newton agrees: "It's about giving them the facts. Being honest, but not overwhelming them with information. They'll come back and ask more questions when they're ready."
She points out that the teen talk shouldn't just be a one-off conversation, and stresses: "It should be an ongoing conversation about empowerment and choice - what better conversation is there to have?"
- Talk openly about puberty with your kids from an early age, and answer questions honestly.
- Ask your child how they'd like to have the conversation, and let them know it's important. Would they like to talk to you or someone else, go somewhere else, or get some information and then have the talk with questions they've prepared?
- Use a hook like something linked to puberty in the media to start the conversation.
- If you're finding starting the chat difficult, get support and advice from a friend or family member.
- Be prepared. Look up relevant information, and try www.childline.org.uk or www.youngminds.or.uk
- Don't make it serious - try to lighten the conversation if you can.
Boots have produced a free #TeenTalk guide, which contains advice from Newton, Sawalha and Maddie. The guide is available in Boots stores until June 8, or from boots.com/teentalk