How can I best parent a "developing" teenage girl?
February 18, 2010 3:05 PM   Subscribe

How does a (divorced, remarried, half-custodial) Dad deal with his preteen daughters' impending, um, physical maturation? Not to put too fine a point on it, but if body shape is at all inherited, they're going to be very curvy soon. How can I help prepare them emotionally for how this will change things, and help them adjust when it does? How do *I* prepare and adjust? (No shotgun jokes please).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Hah. Wonderful way of putting it.

My parents took a fairly unique track towards sex and sexuality. They basically let us know that they weren't going to forbid anything or ever get mad at us, they had done far worse than they expected us to ever to, and just laid out some basic ground rules about knowing where we were going, being responsible and not hiding things from them, that they would supply any supplies we needed. They would discuss sex with us and would let us know anything we could ask. This extended to alcohol and drugs as well as sex.

My sister and I were in our 20s before we had sex. Somehow, the idea that our parents did it and enjoyed it sort of took the rebellion and risk-taking factors out of finally doing 'it'.

I think in this case, with half custody, all you can really do is encourage openness, honesty, trust, and encourage them to be suspicious and use common sense when they're in those situations. They're adults, so treat them as such... when they do stupid but minor things, just help them while making fun of them and letting them know with glee how much they're going to pay for this ... and how much worse it would be if you weren't helping them. The louder you get about banning this, grounding that, and restricting the other thing, the more alluring the risk gets.
posted by SpecialK at 3:16 PM on February 18, 2010 [12 favorites]

You can start by taking this in a more straightforward spirit. Really no need for the putting things in quotes, nudge-nudge wink-wink mindset here. I mean this sincerely. Make sure THEY know this, so if they need to tell you about, say, an irregular period or breast discomfort, they don't feel weird about it.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 3:17 PM on February 18, 2010 [14 favorites]

GirlStuff by writer and cartoonist Kaz Cooke is a great book for your purpose. Buy it, read it yourself (perhaps unknown to them) and then pass it on to your daughters.
posted by Kerasia at 3:18 PM on February 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Post-teen girl here. Sounds like you're more worried about it than they will be. I think books are your friend in this situation -- go to your favorite bookstore, and go to the health or teen section. Pick out what you think is an age appropriate book on physical development BEFORE they begin developing. Explain it to them as totally normal (even if it weird you out, act like you're totally fine with it). Get ready with tampons/pads if you think they'll need it soon. Hopefully they're mom can teach them proper usage.

In terms of body shape ("very curvy soon"), just leave it alone. Don't mention weight/shape/size at all, except to say that they're beautiful no matter what they look like (just like their mom was, right?). The only thing you should emphasize is eating a healthy nutritious diet so they can live long, healthy lives. Anything beyond this will make them feel insecure about who they're becoming.

Take a deep breath, talk about it like its totally normal, don't make it a huge deal, and it will be fine. You are a great dad.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:18 PM on February 18, 2010

If their mom is still in the picture, I suggest you let her handle the puberty talks. I would HATE to discuss this stuff with my dad. When I was at this stage he basically ignored it and I was pretty pleased.

Make sure they have enough money to get whatever drugstore stuff they need.

Maybe your wife can have a conversation with them at some point about lady bathroom stuff for your house, like, "Hey, here's where I keep the tampons & pads, feel free to use these or lemme know what brand you want me to get, and please don't flush them, as the toilet will clog" or whatever else might need to be said.

Girls with irregular schedules can get caught off-guard, so dark-colored sheets, towels, and underwear will make things easier laundry-wise. Have some kind of spot remover handy in the laundry room, too, if they do their own.

Talk to their mom and mutually figure out what the boundaries are about boys coming around (ie, no bedroom doors closed if the people in the room are co-ed, etc), and about what clothing is appropriate (for instance I wasn't allowed to wear strapless tops til college), and then all guardians should try to be consistent with those rules.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:32 PM on February 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, and I meant to say- as they develop curves, it's going to look like they're gaining weight. Resist the urge to say ANYTHING about it. Prepare yourself- their thighs and bums and hips and boobs and bellies and upper arms are going to grow a bit. It's normal and healthy and you should not comment.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:34 PM on February 18, 2010 [9 favorites]

It depends on so many things -- the roles of mom and stepmom especially. Your role, as dad, I think is probably to stay out of it, frankly. Unless mom and stepmom are likely to fall down on the job.

Chris Rock's phrase (which bizarrely I've heard over and over since we became parents of a girl) is that dad's role is to "keep her off the pole".

I'm not the dad, here, I'm the mom. But we take that to heart. I never felt all that appreciated or respected by my own dad. It makes me happy to see how much Mr. Llama loves and respects his little girl, how he honors her independence and is there to cheer for her. She is never going to wonder if her daddy loves her. Never. I mean it.

So that's what you want -- disregard the boobs -- your role is to show her that she has your respect and love, and admiration and support. Everything else will follow.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:35 PM on February 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't think the OP is talking about general puberty, but specifically breasts from looking at his tags. Large breasts aren't necessarily inherited. I developed very early and was already a D cup on a petite frame in middle school while my sister was right on schedule with her puberty and never got past a C cup. Having large breasts at an early age was pretty much hell and I developed a lot of body image issues and an eating disorder way earlier than any kid should have to think about that kind of thing. I really don't know what anyone could have said or done at the time to make anything better though. Let's just hope she matures at the standard rate. Also, I would be mortified if my dad wanted to have any kind of a "boob talk" with me so take from that what you will.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:40 PM on February 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

If my father talked to me about my breasts I'd be pretty icked out.

In fact, I'm pretty icked out by your question as it was written. I think you need to contact the mods and clarify a few things for us.

- It sounds like their mom is in the picture. Do you feel like your daughters will get misinformation or misdirection from their mother?

- Are you asking about how you should be feeling about your daughters as they become young women?

- Are you asking what your response should be when/if you see people (men) in public "checking them out."

- Are you asking what sort of advice you should give them about boys and dating?

Too nebulous a question for such a sensitive issue. I'm reading things into your question, being a curvy woman myself, that you probably didn't intend.

Clarification, please!
posted by jbenben at 3:42 PM on February 18, 2010 [8 favorites]

Unless there is a lot of craziness and angst, please, please, coordinate messages with her mom. You are both still parenting, and it would help her a lot to hear similar stuff, have similar limits, etc.

That's all I have (having a queer daughter was pretty cool in the way of concern about std's, pregnancy, etc.)
posted by Danf at 3:43 PM on February 18, 2010

Well, as a former C-cup 6th grader...

I think the first thing my parents did was encourage me to think about others and cover up. You know -- I'd walk around in my nightie with no bra with my male cousin around, and they politely asked me to think about how it might make him uncomfortable. It wasn't a case of "this is inappropriate and bad" but just "think about it."

I'm sure they're old enough to have gone through the "this is my private area that I shouldn't share with other people" talk loooong ago, but now is a good time for the reiteration. Tell them that you love them and want them to be able to make choices about their bodies, instead of doing what they think other people want. Like it or not, sexuality is a tool. So... don't come out and say that, but emphasize that there are particular times and ways in which expressing sexuality/sensuality is more appropriate than others, and it's very easy to get pushed over that line where it's not so comfortable and you can't control what happens. Maybe talk about pop stars and why they have to do such weird things with their outfits/bodies to get people to pay attention.

Give them space and discretion. Maybe give them nice boxes/shelves for the bathroom where they can keep all of their secret and not-so-secret bathroom stuff. I know that I was absolutely mortified at the mere HINT of a tampon wrapper, even in the bathroom wastebasket where it belonged.

This is certainly more of their mother's job, but what does your wife think and contribute? Like it or not, your kids are part of your package (okay, WOW, was that an awful pun). No matter what help she's comfortable giving, DO IT. Your daughters need every bit of love and support they can get, even in the best of times.

Basically, help them make good decisions. That's all anyone can ask for.
posted by Madamina at 3:43 PM on February 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

How do *I* prepare and adjust?

Much has been written about fathers and daughters in this phase. A common problem is that fathers stop touching/hugging/tickling their daughters around this point, something which compounds the awkwardness of adolescence.

You needn't go out the way to touch them, but make sure they understand that the changes in their bodies are okay with *you*. It will go a long way towards helping them be comfortable with their new shape.

And as others have said, tell them what they can expect from teenage boys.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:44 PM on February 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Personally, I would be uncomfortable to the greatest extreme possible if my dad had ever wanted to have a conversation with me about my boobs, how big they were, and how that would change things for me. Or if he ever even alluded to my boobs at all, really.

As far as the boobs themselves are concerned, I have to second this: Your role, as dad, I think is probably to stay out of it, frankly. Unless mom and stepmom are likely to fall down on the job

What I DO think would be really useful to them is if you forwent all talk of their boobs, and instead focused on the social aspects of things. How their peers and guys might start acting as they all move into adolescence, certain situations that might arise, how to deal with those situations, etc.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:44 PM on February 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if body shape is at all inherited, they're going to be very curvy soon.
It's not necessarily. I'm shaped nothing like my mom. I think I inherited my basic body shape from my paternal grandmother.

It's really important that they not witness you making snarky or mean comments about other women's bodies. It's also really important that they not witness women putting down their own bodies. If your wife has a tendency to make self-deprecating or self-hating comments about her own body, you might ask her not to do that in front of your daughters. It doesn't matter whether she's shaped like them or what she says: the message they'll get is that it's normal for grown-up women to hate their bodies. In general, I would try to banish negative body talk, whether it's about the speaker or about someone else.

Keep in mind that your daughters should not be defined by their bodies. At some point, they will get breasts. That does not mean that anything else about them will change. A little girl with big breasts is still a little girl. She shouldn't be treated like an adult just because she has an adult body. Don't assume that your daughters' social or psychological development will necessarily happen on the same timeline as their physical development.
posted by craichead at 3:46 PM on February 18, 2010 [11 favorites]

Nthing don't comment on their bodies, other than to tell them that they are beautiful. And don't comment on other women's bodies in their presence. My dad did that sometimes, and it made me really uncomfortable and self-conscious.
posted by donajo at 3:54 PM on February 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Another vote for never mention it.
posted by fshgrl at 3:56 PM on February 18, 2010

If they develop early, you may find that they switch to wearing very-baggy body-hiding clothing. I think it's best to let that be, somewhat. I had a similar experience to MaryDellamorte, and I tried to hide what was going on for a couple of years...It was really hard to articulate to my parents why I suddenly wanted to wear Men's XL, and we frequently argued about it. I would have really appreciated it if I was given a bit more freedom to choose my clothing.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 4:02 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a single mom with two daughters and think it's really cool you are asking this question. Most dads won't even think about it. Growing up, my dad made it clear I could talk to him about anything and that he was protecting me. At the time I hated when he'd bring it up--so embarrassing--but I appreciated it then and I definitely do now realizing how positive an influence it was. I'd say don't get into details, but let them know you're there if they need you.
posted by greensalsa at 4:10 PM on February 18, 2010

For all of the body image issues detailed by the others above: Please be sure to tell and show them that many of the images of women that they see (and they will are already seeing them everywhere) are manipulated. Here is a good place to start! If you don't want to broach the body image subject directly, you can easily frame the conversation as "hey, kids-- look what technology can do!", and if you engage in a discussion about the images the real message will very likely get across.
posted by mireille at 5:19 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with donajo--how you treat other women (and this includes telling/laughing at shitty jokes about women, comments about their bodies, openly checking them out, talking about tits in general, etc) will be noticed by your daughters.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:41 PM on February 18, 2010

I'm a single Mom of a son. At 7 or so, he asked about sex. I took a deep breath, and told him about it. I kept talking to him about sex, love, puberty, etc. He sort of hated it (Joke in our house:Take out the trash, or I'll tell you about the birds and the bees again) , but I am the parent he talks to about stuff, like what if I think I might have an STD? When it became apparent to me that he was likely to become sexually active, I made sure he had condoms and talked about responsibility. My point is, it's not just the Mom's job to talk to girls about sex. Talk to them about their right to have fun and be pleased, and about never bowing to sexual pressure.

Go to a good bookstore; there are books for this They are a good addition to talking to them, but not a replacement.

Flirt with them some, in a sweet way. Dance with them. Take them to lunch, or fishing, or whatever you like to do. Kids need to practice flirting in a safe way. It shows them how to talk to a guy. My dad didn't do this, and I am a horrible, awkward flirter. Don't just talk to them about their bodies, show them you want to spend time with them. It builds their confidence.

Talk to their Mom about what kind of tampons to keep on hand. Once they've gotten used to their periods, ask them their preference, and keep them in stock. Running out of period supplies is awful.

When it becomes apparent that she is likely to become sexually active, make sure she has condoms and talk about responsibility.

If you talk to your kids about sex, you make it easier for them to someday talk to their lover, spouse, doctor, etc.
posted by theora55 at 5:46 PM on February 18, 2010

Via theora55 - "Flirt with them some, in a sweet way. Dance with them. Take them to lunch, or fishing, or whatever you like to do."

Sorry -that strikes me as really questionable and creepy.

OP - Don't do this. It sends weird vibes to your girls and it might negatively effect your relationship with your wife.

My personal experience with the attention my own father paid to me and how that changed when he got married was kinda extreme, as my stepmother was an accomplished corporate executive who handled her entrance into my family like a corporate takeover. However...

I believe this is precisely the behavior by my Dad that caused my stepmom to nix my relationship with him in my mid-twenties. I just posted the story about that in another thread earlier this week. You can read about that here.

Relevant to my story, leading up to the ultimate demise of the relationship.... my dad met me for lunch and informed me he wouldn't be "confiding" in me as much about his personal life, as per his new wife. Weird, because I didn't think he was an over-sharer. Ditto the fact that he felt the need to tell me this in-person! Obviously, his new wife told him he must inform me and helped him craft the message as well. Lovely.

Relevant to the OP - I wonder if the OP is perhaps concerned how his wife will take the "competition" as the daughters mature? Sometimes people's insecurities get subconsciously triggered. While this particular possibility is dramatic and unlikely, things certainly will change in the household as the girls get older.

I thought it telling the OP did not mention his new wife's role in all this. As the stepmom, I'd assume OP's wife would have a bigger role than the dad in talking with the girls about lady-issues, yes? I'm wondering why her role wasn't a bigger part of the ask.

OP - the point I am making here is that I still do not understand the nature of your question, and I wish some clarification had shown up, via the mods.

The only advice I've seen that might be directly helpful (even tho I think all of the personal stories are awesome!!) are the suggestions for the OP to seek a short round of therapy to talk about any issues he might have.

OP. This is a sensitive stuff. Perhaps the privacy and security of a therapist's office it what you really need here.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 6:37 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

To clarify - of course you should spend time with your kids!! But don't FLIRT with them.

That's the creepy part. Both your daughters and your wife will notice you are responding to your daughters like an interested male admirer as they are becoming young women. Creep Factor there is high.

Why not take gender out of it entirely and work on ways to relate to your maturing daughters as young adults? Strengthen their confidence in their talents and nurture their developing personalities and values.

If you are having issues with their physical maturation, leave the bulk of that to the positive female influences in their life and seek out a therapist for a few discussions about what you are feeling.

FWIW, OP - All along I've felt this ask was more about you than them.
posted by jbenben at 6:46 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

To clarify - of course you should spend time with your kids!! But don't FLIRT with them.

That's the creepy part. Both your daughters and your wife will notice you are responding to your daughters like an interested male admirer as they are becoming young women. Creep Factor there is high.

Ack, I agree! I think this would past beyond simply gross and into future-therapy-bills zone.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:05 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a slightly dissenting voice, my parents were still married with two daughters, and my dad never had a break from "lady issues." He never seemed to mind, and he certainly never left those conversations. He joked with me, he yelled at me for wearing clothing that was too revealing, he never stopped showing affection, and he never minded laundering our bras, folding them, figuring out whose were whose (tricky when you've got three women's laundry in one basket).

For him, our development wasn't a big deal. He never balked at buying menstrual supplies or hearing complaints about our periods.

Essentially, he didn't really behave much differently from my mom, and I love him for not making me feel weird around him. In my case, my body matured faster than my emotions. With my dad not making a big production of it and just acknowledging what was happening, it helped me feel less freakish.
posted by gladly at 7:09 PM on February 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

I think the best approach here is for YOU to read a book, see what it says the girls should expect from Dad, then go from there.

It's weird to not address it at all, because, hey, big changes. But there are reasonable ways to do it without introducing the creep factor (flirting is creepy to the extreme; don't do that, please). You need to be a knowledgeable resource for them, someone they can go to without it being gross or humiliating. Dads are able to do this. It just takes a careful approach. Mr. Dad has some good advice.

I did not have good paternal role-modeling or attention in my life during this transition, despite Dad being the primary custodial parent at that time. I don't know what would have gone differently, but I do know the girls who had a different experience ended up more comfortable with themselves, better able to protect themselves from jerks, and less likely to jump off emotional bridges out of confusion. They were lucky kids and I think yours will be lucky too, as they've an aware father who knows they're about to in one of the most confusing stages of life.

One thing I always admired were those who'd had dads who advocated & identified appropriate treatment of women to help them form a more crisp boundary set. Pooh-poohing misogynistic programming, acclaim for notable treatment, that sort of thing. But it's gotta be natural and somewhat subtle or it'll just come off over-eager or cheesy.
posted by batmonkey at 7:30 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The tone of your question seems to be conflating physical development, like breast budding or periods, with development of sexuality. There's really no relationship between the two, and you really need to think of breast growth the same way you would think of your daughter getting taller. Don't assume that just because she's "curvy" or gets her period that she will have any interest in boys or sex. It's not like she has any control over when she gets your period. I heartily recommend Care and Keeping of You because it covers the physical aspects of puberty without mixing it up too much with sex ed. Not that I don't think sex ed is important, but it really doesn't have much to do with physical development.
posted by Violet Hour at 8:14 PM on February 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

As a life long "curvy" woman, I am not getting the creep vibe that jbenben seems to have injected into the question.

But I would strongly agree not to flirt with your children, even in what seems like a sweet, innocent manner.

Read books, share books, coordinate with their mother and your wife. Make sure they know you love them and think they are beautiful no matter what they look like so they don't develop insecurity. You'll be fine, OP.
posted by asciident at 9:02 PM on February 18, 2010

One of the things I'm glad my dad did is that he hugged and kissed me the same at 14 as he did at 4. Hugs are important!

Also, the best code word for tampons or pads or whatever your girls use: supplies. It's very generic, and so isn't terribly likely to cause massive eye rolls if you ask if they need you to put some on the shopping list, etc.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:09 PM on February 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you're worried about how your daughters are going to respond to the change in men's/boys' responses to them, I think the important message to get across to them is that you love them for who they are, not what they look like. I can point to a dozen things I wish my dad had done differently as I matured and our relationship changed, but one thing I didn't doubt was that my dad saw me as a person. That was a badly needed point of stability early in my adolescence.

The other thing he did absolutely right was model loving and respectful relationships with the adult women in his life - my mother, my aunts (his sister and sisters-in-law), my mom's friends, and both my grandmothers. I won't say this saved me from making mistakes in dating guys, but it did give me an idea about where I wanted to draw particular lines. My self-respect and sense of equality with others survived adolescence pretty well, and that's in no small part attributable to the respect that my father demonstrated toward me and toward women generally.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:48 PM on February 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think the first thing my parents did was encourage me to think about others and cover up. You know -- I'd walk around in my nightie with no bra with my male cousin around, and they politely asked me to think about how it might make him uncomfortable.

The idea that the first thing girls would need to know about breasts is to "cover up" lest they make others "uncomfortable" makes me really, really...uncomfortable. You know, there are even grown women who walk down the street while not wearing a bra under their T-Shirt. I didn't wear a bra for a very long time, and I'm well above C-Cups myself. Boys will just need to learn to live with the fact that, you know, women have breasts. Big deal!

I think I would try and treat breasts like any other body part. Female breasts are not some magical enigma that turns boys/men into ravenous beasts (even if that's what popular culture tries to tell us).

And yeah, if a girl starts to look a bit pudgy at that age, don't make jokes about it, it's really not funny.
posted by The Toad at 2:10 AM on February 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

follow-up from the OP
Here's some more info, as requested. Yes, my question was specifically about social reactions to getting busty, both from boys and girls, based on lots of personal stories in this Metafilter topic (and the resulting MetaTalk. They made me think about how big and weird that experience seems to loom in the lives of women who've been through it.

I feel I have a good relationship with the girls generally and we had "the talk" many years ago. General sexuality and puberty, buying tampons, etc. I have no worries about.

My relationship with the girls' mother is strained so that it's difficult to talk about anything significant, and in my admittedly biased opinion, she has some real issues with her own body image. More generally, she's one of the least reflective people I've met, so it's hard to trust her advice to the girls. My wife is great and gets along with the girls well, but we're basically newlyweds so she and the girls are still working out their relationship. She also has a more slender build. I'm discussing this with her of course and she's reading this topic.
posted by jessamyn at 3:30 AM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Girls with irregular schedules can get caught off-guard, so dark-colored sheets, towels, and underwear will make things easier laundry-wise.

Oh my God, this, 1000x this. My mother apparently doesn't believe that sheets and towels can come in any colour other than white, so I spent the years between about 13 and 18 getting very, very, very good with cold water and Woolite.

Also -- just please, stay in their lives. Hug them, make sure they know they're loved. Hang with them. I don't think it's absolutely universal, but teenage girls just do not get on with their mothers. I was very much one of those teenage girls, and it would have been really nice to have been able to lean on my Dad, instead of feeling just totally alone.
posted by kalimac at 3:30 AM on February 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Having large breasts is definitely a bit of a nightmare in current society, and it's especially hard to handle when you're young.

A lot of girls learn by the example of other girls, so get to know your kids' friends and make sure that they seem like confident, respectful, smart people. A girl is going to ask her best friend about bras and all that puberty stuff ages before she'll bring it up with her parents. If your kids don't have relationships like this in their lives, you can help by getting them involved in activities and working with them on tangentially related problems like self esteem and their own social skills, so they can get the vitally important friends.

My very best friend growing up was (and still is) a complete twig of a woman, with no curves and knobbly knees, and now she's proportioned like a fashion model. I've always been short and chubby and went from baby fat to D cups over the course of middle and highschool. But we both talked about all of our important Firsts (periods, crushes, boob problems, hair, etc) with each other, and it was invaluable. We both used each other to sort of check in on things and make sure we weren't totally out of the realm of normal. Without each other I think we would have been completely lost.

My parents ensured our friendship through thick and thin, letting us spend almost unlimited amounts of time with each other, leaving us alone and trusting us not to get into trouble, always happy to host a sleepover. When we'd have fights, my parents would always make sure I could patch it up, even though I have trouble with the whole social graces thing. Looking back, I know that they were extremely forgiving and understanding about all of this because my parents saw that my best friend was what was helping me handle growing up. I'm so thankful that they trusted her and respected her from the getgo. I remember friends whose parents utilized friendships like rewards to be gained for good behavior and thank my parents for considering companionship to be more important than that.

This has gotten away from me a bit, but basically, as girls grow up they try to distance themselves from their parents in a lot of ways. They replace a lot of the praise and love previously gotten from parents with new types of happiness from their friends. They value the knowledge of their peers more than the wisdom of their parents. Certainly, you can respect your girls, give them private space, let them know that they can say anything to you and you won't judge them for it, but no matter what, they're going to go to their friends to talk the secret, private things out. So you just need to facilitate your children having the best friendships possible.
posted by Mizu at 4:32 AM on February 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm here to say, "agency!"

If your daughters have not internalized their right to say no, and excuse themselves from uncomfortable situations, they need exposure to that. Post haste.

They need to know that they can call you for a pickup no matter where they are, how drunk they have gotten, or how much you disapprove of the 22 year old boyfriend who wants to get into their pants. Many teenage girls feel a lot of shame in sexualized situations, and when that shame butts up against potential parental anger, they hide the shame in order to avoid the anger (or disappointment).

They need to know that no means no when they say it. If they have learned to obey because that is the rght thing to do, they need critical thinking skills that permit them to disobey for their comfort and safety.

All people need these things, but girls and women need them specifically to fend off unwanted sexual attention And eating disorders/body image issues.

If anyone taught your daughters to "clean their plates," this has to stop. Go for walks with them, encourage them to put some chips in a bowl instead of eating straight from the bag, and don't dismiss them when they express discomfort with people or situations.

This will all help as much as (or more than) direct information about their specific body parts.
posted by bilabial at 6:26 AM on February 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

All of the "never ever ever speak of it" advice makes me really sad and frustrated, because it sounds like it's advising Anonymous to be embarrassed by his daughters' physical maturity. I think that's the wrong foot on which to do start.

Be matter-of-fact, kind, and try to resist the urge to nervously overexplain yourself, because it is there that you will put your foot in your mouth.

If they're not dressed appropriately, it's okay to tell them this simply. After all, presumably at some point as toddlers you had to put an end to letting them roam around the yard naked. You're their father.

You need to be a knowledgeable resource for them, someone they can go to without it being gross or humiliating. Dads are able to do this.

This. Well said.
posted by desuetude at 6:33 AM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Coming back to clarity that I meant "agency" in the sociological sense , and not in the, "get them into modeling careers" sense.

Also, I want to clarify that I am not discounting the solid advice above to make information available about their physical bodies. I'm just not able to add anything of use on that front.

Without the confidence, all the knowledge in the world will not carry her.

And without knowledge, confidence alone won't protect her.
posted by bilabial at 8:21 AM on February 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Some excellent thoughts here. I just wanted to add that I was a early-developing, "curvy" pre-teen. My own father tried to handle this by praising me - way over the top. He would tell me that I was so pretty, turning into a lovely young woman, etc. I know he meant well, but at that age I felt like a total cow. It made me feel like I didn't believe him. In some way it would have been best for him to just shut up and not bring up my physical appearance at all. Keep in mind that even if your daughter is indeed attractive, if she *doesn't* get attention from boys, she may feel something is wrong with her.

Really, just be sensitive, and do whatever you can to focus on healthy lifestyle at that age. When I developed a curvy figure, I stopped doing a lot of physical activity because I felt uncomfortable about using my body in that way. For example, I loved (loved!) swimming as a little girl, but when I hit puberty I was so uncomfortable in a bathing suit (when I started to show underarm hair and grow breasts) that I pretty much stopped. It would have been great if my parents had noticed that and (instead of trying to get me back in the pool) to have helped me find a different activity (bike riding, perhaps) that let me feel comfortable being active in my changing body.
posted by pants at 8:42 AM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know this is late in the thread, but I am also sad that so many people are advocating that Dad's just ignore their daughters reaching and going through puberty. My dad and I had a few awkward moments, but over all he was wonderfully supportive and was someone I always felt I could go to if I needed to talk or ask questions.

My Mom gave me a lot more practical advice, but my Dad would ask me questions about my day, and how things were going and that would lead to a discussion about a boy that had bothered me in class, and how I handled that. Or he would tell me about an incident at work (sexual harrassment) that he had to deal with as a supervisor and we would talk about what happened and how I would handle it if something like that happened to me.

Because I felt so supported by him, when a teacher at school was behaving in an inappropriate manner with several students I was able to go to him and he helped launch an investigation that ultimately led to that teacher's dismissal.

I think if you take a genuine interest in your daughters life, and discuss her day in a relaxed, laid back way you will have tons of opportunities to address all kinds of topics. And she may appreciate a guys point of view, and will realize that she has you to access that information.
posted by lootie777 at 11:36 AM on February 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

OP - glad to see the update.

As to the confusion in this thread surrounding potential direct comments regarding anatomy or sexuality by the OP to his daughters...

Sometimes innocent comments get twisted around in our young (y)ears, and it is wiser to avoid certain touchy subjects altogether if the OP feels unsure with the subject matter. There are women in the picture, after all, who better know the physical changes his daughters are experiencing! Little "haha" asides in the ask like, "No shotgun jokes, please!" lead some of us to believe it was prudent to caution the OP in this regard.

Lots of good suggestions above on what the OP can focus on besides any direct reference in the coming years about his daughters' changing physiology one way or another. All good advice!

OP - it sounds like the root of your worry steams from a serious distrust or misgiving regarding your ex-wife, and how to best counter-act her influence with your daughters.

My advice would be to start now cultivating positive mature interaction with your daughters, as per advice above. Similarly, avoid any negativity about your ex-wife. For sure avoid comparing your daughters to your ex-wife or her side of the family in any way.

Teach critical thinking so they can come to their own conclusions about life. Teach them to be independent of the opinions of others, including yours.

I don't see anything to be gained by directly challenging the ideas of your ex-wife in the hearts and minds of your daughters. I think that will confuse them more than anything else. Be mindful in this regard.

Any advice that reminded you to treat all the women in your life respectfully (including your ex-wife!) in order to create a good example for your daughters was spot on.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 1:10 PM on February 19, 2010

Maybe a practical way to help out would be to make sure she is able to get good bras. I was busty at an early age and didn't know how to find bras that fit, and the concept wasn't even on my radar.

Find a place where she can get help with sizing. Maybe go off and do your own shopping while she's busy with that. I think this could be awkward, so I don't have advice for that. Maybe your ex will be able to handle this? (Bras can be expensive, so if she does, make sure they have enough money to purchase good ones.)
posted by bleary at 8:56 AM on February 21, 2010

2nding the bra comment. At that age, my friends with large breasts struggled with aching backs and poorly-fitting clothes because they didn't have good bras. Later trips to specialty stores helped a lot.

This may or may not be your place but at least talk to your wife about it, offer to help share the costs, or offer to take your daughters on a trip to a department store with a nice undergarments section and ask your daughters if they need undergarments. Then give them some money and wander off.

Clothing in general may be an issue - they may need to buy clothing in women's sizes to get stuff that fits, and it tends to be more expensive. They all may need new clothes more often as they are developing.

I would not make any insinuations that men might only be interested in them because of their breasts - it will only make them insecure. Let them find their own relationships, and keep lines of communication open so they can tell you about their experiences. Okay questions to ask in conversations like this would be, "does he respect you?" or "is he a good listener?" Bad questions would be "are you sure he isn't just trying to get sex?" etc. If they complain to you about men making passes at them, encourage them to be assertive in those situations.
posted by mai at 7:08 PM on February 21, 2010

A very sneaky thing my mom did when I was a teenager, that might also allow you to talk to your daughters about difficult topics: She would tell me that she a friend's daughter was going through a difficult situation, and then ask me : What do you think my friend's daughter should do? What do you think my friend should do?

Example: "My friend thinks her daughter is having sex. Her daughter's a year younger than you. Do you think my friend should talk to her daughter to make sure she's using birth control?" She would listen to what I had to say, then: "What about her daughter, what do you think she should do?"

Only a few years ago did I realize that this friend and daughter were imaginary.

I love that my mom didn't tell me what to do, but instead encouraged me to think about what I would do in various situations. I also love that she was subtly sending me the message that she was someone who was nonjudgemental and willing to talk to me about these subjects.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:10 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

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