How to talk to your teenage daughter about women's health

Mar 29, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. ET

Even if you haven't talked to your daughter about women's health yet, chances are she knows more than you think. With Planned Parenthood and the Susan G. Komen Foundation in the news recently, there's no time like the present to have a frank, honest discussion with your teen about women's health issues. Even if she's not quite ready for her annual exams, someday she'll need the information. Read more about why it's important for your teen to learn about women's health from you.

It's OK to be embarrassed

"This is a tough topic for moms who are feeling shy or embarrassed — or for daughters who are. Keep in mind that, however shy either, or both, of you are feeling, your daughter needs and wants to know what you know about this," Dr. G explains.

Regardless of how you feel about the Komen/Planned Parenthood issue, the fact it was all over the media for days means your teenage daughter may have a lot of questions about breast health — and women's health in general. "Imparting our values to our children requires periodic conversations from different angles," says Dr. G — Deborah Gilboa, M.D., and founder of "For a mother who feels that Komen's decision was a travesty, that is a great entry to the conversation with her teen — likewise for a mom who feels that Komen did the right thing. Using current events or pop culture as a jumping off point will allow a mom to give information in a way that teens will not feel is as invasive or accusatory or perhaps unsettling."

Learn how to teach your daughter about breast cancer >>

If having this talk with your daughter sounds daunting, don't worry. Take a deep breath, and follow
Dr. G's advice:

Find a comfortable place to talk

Dr. G says, "Find a situation that eases you, like talking in the car when eye contact isn't possible or in a movie theater before the movie starts. Find a mentor that supports you — another mother-daughter pair with whom you and your daughter are comfortable or a trusted older relative that is a straight talker. If she gives a lot of this information to your daughter in front of you, that will save you the difficulty of saying the words but still give your seal of approval."

Ask your daughter some questions

According to Dr. G — and many parents — teens already think they know more about sex than you do! "Ask your daughter what she has learned about STDs: how to get them, how to prevent them, what they are. You might as well let her 'educate' you so you can find the gaps in her knowledge."

Prepare yourself for her first GYN visit

If you can, chat with your daughter's doctor ahead of time. Dr. G recommends making sure her doctor asks about sexual activity, substance use, body image, HPV and intimate partner violence.

Learn about common pediatric gynecologic issues >>

She says, "Don't stay in the exam room for the whole appointment, and be sure her doctor knows you want your daughter to have a private opportunity to talk about these 'private' issues. Also, this will help her learn to take responsibility for her own health."

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