We all remember it – the awkward conversation. The birds and the bees, the period chat, or just mum trying to talk to you about the opposite sex.
It made us cringe, and we just wanted it to be over – but now, as adults, we understand that those topics are essential for parents to discuss with their teens. And it turns out it’s not easy being the parent, either!
Not only is ‘the talk’ a rite of passage, it is important that your children know that they can get information at home, so they don’t resort to sourcing their information from the playground or online, and so that they know they can ask you questions without fear of being judged.
We’ve asked Loose Women’s Nadia Sawalha, who is mum to two daughters, to give us her top tips on raising a teenage family, and how she is handling the topic of ‘tricky’ conversations as her girls grow up.
Hard as it may be, you have to acknowledge that your children are growing up. Nadia says of her daughter Maddie, ‘You go from your little baby girl that you can sort most things with a cuddle, a Disney film and a cup of hot chocolate to suddenly things becoming much more complicated and complex.’
However, whilst it’s a difficult thing for parents to adapt to, it’s important to start the conversation about growing up early. ‘One thing that I do feel pretty confident about, that has been the right thing, is that I have been very open with Maddie right since she was small so I don’t think she will have ever felt there was a subject that was off limits.’
To make periods less taboo, include them as a natural part of everyday conversation, and make the experience sounds as positive as possible. Nadia says, ‘My daughter [Maddie] never got embarrassed with periods because we always talked about them. So when she was a small child she would come in and I’d be on the loo and having my period and she’d stick a Tampax up her nose or throw a sanitary towel across the room and eventually that becomes a conversation – oh what is this thing I’m throwing around?’
‘Women have these periods because we have the most extraordinary bodies we can just grow life whilst doing other things. We could just lie in bed and grow toenails and eyelashes and not even break into a sweat. And because of that we also have to have our periods. So right from day one, periods were something that was just pretty amazing. We are definitely the amazing sex here.’
And don’t think it has to be just the women in the house that have the period conversation either! ‘My husband is really great with this, bless him, he’s got a house full of women, even the dog is a female you know and sometimes he doesn’t know if he is coming or going,’ Nadia jokes. ‘But he tries so hard. Maddie will say go and get my Always for me, go to the shops, get it from the drawer. He will hand her a sanitary towel and it doesn’t matter.’
When it comes to sex, it’s not always the worst thing if your kids turn to their friends first, explains Nadia. ‘Maddie was saying to me that sometimes she likes to run things through with her friends but she will always eventually come to talk to me about them as well. I was really heartened by that because she is doing what she should be doing, starting to separate from me and find her own way, that’s her sometimes talking to her friends about stuff before me.’
And whilst you don’t want to make sex seem like something to be ashamed of, it’s okay to admit to your child if you’re struggling to talk about it or finding it awkward.
Nadia says; ‘I think that it is okay to say that you are struggling. I think that so often we want to be totally perfect for our kids and they can smell a rat like you wouldn’t believe… Sometimes I’ll say to Maddie I feel a bit embarrassed, do you feel a bit embarrassed? And then we can have a bit of a laugh about it, and not make everything really serious. Kids hate that, there is nothing worse than saying can we have a talk. Allow them to take the mickey out of you, allow yourself to say I’m struggling, this is really new territory for me, shall we try this? Be prepared to be flexible.’
Remember how you felt (or still feel!) when you wake up with an angry spot on your face? Well, you shouldn’t dismiss how significant spots are for your child too. ‘When Maddie has an outbreak of spots there is no point just saying ‘oh well it doesn’t matter you’re a beautiful person inside’ cause it does matter, it’s horrible when you have spots and it does feel like the whole world is looking at them,’ Nadia says.
‘Say it does feels really bad but it won’t always be like this. If you’re dismissive they’re just going to trap it inside and feel so miserable. Have a good cry about it if you want. So many other teens that suffer it, too often people go don’t worry you’re a wonderful person, but the child is thinking – I don’t want to be a wonderful person at this moment, I want really good skin!’
5. Body confidence
It might seem natural to compliment your child on every aspect of themselves, but instead of fixating on their beauty, talk about all the amazing things their body can do. ‘Maddie is the most beautiful dancer and I say to her what incredible things her body does and how strong her body is,’ Nadia says. ‘Because if we fixate all the time on how we look and not how extraordinary our bodies are, then that just is the road to hell.’
The focus on girls is enormous, but remember that your son may be struggling with confidence too, she adds. ‘It’s not just a female thing anymore because there is so much pressure. And sometimes all you can do is give your kid a hug actually because there aren’t the answers. It’s just a bad day and it will pass. Sometimes we feel this bad but it doesn’t stay all the time and it will pass.’
6. Social media
‘People can say the most awful things on social media that they just wouldn’t have the courage to say to your face. And I tell Maddie that’s what you always have to keep it in mind. A lot of what can happen with social media is that people can get too involved in answering back, you know put your phone down and walk away from it. Do something better.’
Remind them that whatever you post is public and forever – ‘I say to them whatever you do, would you be comfortable be doing it on the top of a bus? A full top deck. Imagine that, because nothing you are doing is wrong but it is a very wide world out there.’
‘It’s so important that we are validating them and that we are listening to them. Because you don’t want them going to social media… Maddie’s dad tells her every single day how beautiful she is and I tell her every day how wonderful she is. What a good heart she has got,’ she concludes. ‘Hopefully she is getting validation from home and doesn’t need to go out to a load of strangers to say what do you think of me?’