Your daughter is growing up. It fills you with joy and pride sometimes… and with stress at other times. Adolescence is a hard time to navigate safely. Your daughter is independent enough to make decisions and take actions that will have lasting consequences. Does she have the right information and preparation to choose a path that will bring her long-term health and happiness?
What your daughter wants to know
A changing situation will inspire questions about that change. All girls in all cultures worldwide will have questions as they notice changes in their bodies and the bodies around them. A young girl notices her mother’s stomach getting bigger and bigger until suddenly there’s a new baby in the family. What a change! How did that happen?! – is the question that begs to be answered.
As girls grow, approach and go through adolescence, there are yet more questions to be asked and answers to be sought. Some questions are physical: about her changing body. Some questions are emotional: about her changing feelings about and relationships with her friends – of both genders.
Your daughter wants to know how to navigate the new world she is experiencing.
- How do I understand what’s going on?
- How can I take care of myself?
- What’s normal?
Does she have anyone to guide her?
What your daughter needs to know
What topics does your daughter need to have a strong awareness of and accurate information about?
- How her reproductive system works
- All the ways her body changes during puberty
- What to expect when she first gets her period
- What heavy bleeding is, what might cause it, and how much bleeding is considered heavy bleeding
- Being aware of her body’s rhythms and how to tell if a change or symptom is abnormal
- The importance of going to a gynecologist for regular checkups and for concerns
- How to build an emotionally healthy relationship
- Emotional self-awareness
- Respect for herself and her own boundaries
- Respect for others and their boundaries
- Responsibility in decisions that can affect the lives of others
- STDs (e.g. Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis)
The consequences if she doesn’t know
The consequences of girls going through adolescence in the modern world without the preparation of health and sexuality education is clear, reports the European Parliament Directorate-General for Internal Policies. “Experts have argued in numerous studies and reports that a flawed or insufficient sexuality education leads to an increase of teenage pregnancy rate and a higher amount of people suffering from AIDS and STIs.”
The numbers speak for themselves. The above-mentioned report on Sexuality Education in the EU reports that “Nordic and Benelux countries are known for having the highest quality of sexuality education, while Eastern and Southern European States have deficient or inexistent sexuality education programmes.”
What are the results? “New cases of HIV are increasing three times faster in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe.” Not only that, but “the teenage pregnancy rate stands between 2 and 5% in the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania and Estonia in Europe, but it is under 2% in most of the EU member states.”
WHO/Europe attributes “complications of pregnancy and childbirth, unsafe abortions, reproductive tract infections, sexual violence and women dying from avoidable cancer” to a lack of available education about sexuality in some European countries.
It takes a village to raise a child
Where should education for young women about reproductive health and sexuality come from? Well, if we want the education to be truly effective, there shouldn’t be just one source.
In countries where sexuality education is mandatory, as it is in most member states of the EU (excluding Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom), teachers in schools are often the front line of sexuality education. The more specifically-trained a teacher is to teach this topic, the more effective the program will be. In addition, the ability of the teacher “to answer all the audience’s questions without giving their personal views” contributes to the success of the program.
But teachers are not – and should not – be the only educators. An additional factor in highly successful sexuality education programs is “the involvement of the parents. They have the right to contribute to their children’s knowledge in this matter.” This is your child and this is about her future life. Your sensitive participation matters – and can make a significant impact.
We want our daughters to have a future of health and happiness, successful relationships and positive choices. Let’s invest in educating our daughters, and providing them with the information and awareness they’ll need.