I was lucky enough to be invited to afternoon tea at a swanky hotel in London with Nadia Sawalha recently! Cue gasps of ‘OMG, I love her!’ But there is, in fact, a serious matter attached to the lovely afternoon I was privileged to be a part of.
Nadia is ambassador for a fabulous campaign being launched today by P&G and Boots. Along with the brands, Nadia and her daughter are fronting #TeenTalk, which is aimed at getting parents chatting to their kids about puberty. Eek!
‘Teen expert’, Sarah Newton joined Nadia and her daughter, Maddie to talk all things awkward with a group of bloggers, and how we can try to make that conversation easier. We also had the arduous task of drinking coffee (hate), eating cake (gross), and gossiping (blah).
I’m now tasked with helping to promote this worthy cause, of encouraging the ‘birds and the bees’ chat. Hmmm. Here’s the thing: no matter how much we wish it were not the case, it’s…well…a little embarrassing, really; isn’t it? And I need to write about it. Bear with me.
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Probably the best way to handle this situation is to diffuse any awkwardness with a little humour. So I’m going to tell you a funny anecdote about a school friend of mine…
The Birds and The Bees
This girl, let’s call her Clare (sorry Clare, I promise not to use your surname), was thirteen at the time. Around thirteen is the average age for a girl to, ahem, start her monthly cycle.
Anyway, so Clare and her siblings were visiting their dad one weekend (her parents were divorced). He had a new partner, so (thankfully as it turns out) there was a woman present too. During the first evening at her dad’s, a traumatic incident took place. I don’t recall the precise details; I just know it was something that affected Clare quite profoundly. In case you’re not already aware, such an event can actually be a trigger for a girl’s period to begin.
Guess what? The very next evening, Clare’s first ever period began. (Bet you didn’t see that coming…) Unfortunately she wasn’t super close to her dad – certainly not enough to tell him what had happened anyway…
Luckily, Clare was quite close to her step-mum, Jan, and was able to confide in her. Jan was great, and quickly took control, telling her other half they were popping out to take the dog for a walk. But Clare’s dad was a gentleman. Unfortunately in this particular situation, he was such a gent that things became very difficult…
He offered to take the dog.
Jan politely declined.
An awkward battle of wills ensued… And all the while Clare stood on the sidelines, her cheeks aflame with embarrassment.
Gosh, how awful. Can you imagine?
Actually, I don’t have to imagine very hard at all. This actually happened to me, and my cheeks weren’t simply aflame with embarrassment, they were burning with shame.
As my dad started to get irritated and suspicious about our motives, I clearly remember feeling like a rabbit in headlights, waiting for my step-mum to end the silly pretence and come clean about why we needed to go. So the reality is that while this anecdote may be mildly amusing, it also perfectly illustrates the grave importance of being able to have a frank conversation with your child.
The thought of either of our daughters being in this situation devastates me – I know that no matter how uncomfortable, my husband would want to help our girls.
So it’s vital that we pave the way for these difficult conversations before they can become an insurmountable problem.
According to research conducted by Boots and P&G:
- 68% of parents find it difficult to approach the subject of puberty with their teens.
- 1 in 5 parents are unsure how to begin the conversation.
- So much so, that a quarter avoid #TeenTalk altogether.
#TeenTalk ambassador and mum of two, Nadia Sawalha, explains, “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.”
Campaign expert and teenologist Sarah Newton says, “The ‘#TeenTalk’ 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!”
But the good news is that despite recognising the awkwardness of the conversation, 76% of adults questioned still want to be their children’s’ first port of call. And teens are themselves less uncomfortable than their parents:
- It’s reassuring that 49% of teens are happiest discussing these matters with Mum;
- With over a third comfortable talking about personal care;
- And almost a quarter happy to address changes that will take place during puberty.
- 18% find it easy to discuss menstruation.
Despite this, a third of teens still don’t feel very confident about having #TeenTalk. Maddie, 13, explains “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.”
We must also be mindful of the rise in social media meaning 53% of teenagers would prefer to turn to less awkward sources of information.
“It’s difficult”, explains Nadia, “as we are the first generation of mums to be going through this conversation with a child so connected to social media. There’s no rule book to follow or mums and grandmothers to ask for advice. Just like our teens, we’re figuring it all out as we go. It’s another of those firsts!”
I Was Uncomfortable Sharing
In truth, I was quite uncomfortable at the thought of sharing my personal story with strangers. And then I carefully considered why I felt that way.
On reflection, I wasn’t convinced it was appropriate. And I suppose that actually, there may not be many instances where it is entirely appropriate – because of course there’s such a thing as over-sharing. But in these specific circumstances, I decided it’s the perfect analogy of a wider problem:
It demonstrates the innocence of a child maturing, and how that has been skewed by our culture into something to be hidden from those who are supposed to take care of us.
And that’s where this fabulous campaign comes in.
From launch today until the end of May, a free #TeenTalk guide will be available exclusively at Boots stores, featuring advice from Nadia, Maddie and Sarah, and aimed at getting us all talking. Even better, since many parents are stuck as to which products to recommend to their teens, Boots will be offering savings on trusted brands including Always, Tampax, Gillette, Venus and Boots Tea Tree & Witch Hazel.
Celine Hernández, Brand Manager P&G UK and Ireland, said, “We are delighted to be joining forces with Boots to help parents and teens navigate the puberty conversation. We are proud to be able to use our brands to support parents and their teenagers as they embrace the new personal care regimes that come at this time of their lives.”
Kristy McCready from Boots agrees, “It’s with great excitement that we’re taking part in the #TeenTalk campaign with P&G. Together Nadia and her daughter Maddie, alongside expert knowledge from Sarah Newton, sum up perfectly in the #TeenTalk guide, the challenges that parents and families meet as their child develops into a teenager. We encourage parents and teens to pick up a copy of the #TeenTalk guide as part of our commitment to helping mums to help their teens feel good.”
We’re essentially talking about bodily functions – fundamental ones over which we have no control. They are not something to be ashamed of; if anything, much like the caterpillar becoming the butterfly, they should instead be celebrated.
Ultimately, I realised we’re born unembarrassed, and it’s with age, maturity, and – crucially –the influence of society, that we develop a sense of shame.
There’s only one way to tackle this, and that starts with us and how we interact with and educate our children. It’s our job to teach them to be proud of their bodies and the incredible things they are capable of.
Sarah Newton agrees, “It’s about giving them the facts. Being honest but not overwhelming them with information. They will come back and ask more questions when they are ready. Don’t forget #TeenTalk isn’t one single chat, but an ongoing conversation.”
And that’s the take home message for me:
It’s never too early to start being open with your child and answering their questions honestly.
Research was conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Boots and P&G amongst 1,000 UK teenagers aged 13-18, as well as their parents in February, 2016.
All stats quoted are representative of parents surveyed in Britain and Ireland.