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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Talking to Your Daughter About Puberty

Talking to Your Daughter About Puberty

Dr. Walt Larimore discusses the importance of talking with your daughter about puberty and the changes involved as she transitions from childhood to womanhood.


Promo Spot:

Announcer: (Sound of crowd of students) Students are being told they can’t read the Bible during their free time at school, but they do have that right. That’s why Focus on the Family is sponsoring Bring Your Bible to School Day on October 16th. It’s a day for students who respectfully, but boldly celebrate religious freedom. Get involved by going to www.dayofdialogue.com. There’s cool stuff–T-shirts, videos, lots of ways to make it an epic day. Again, that’s www.dayofdialogue.com and remember, October 16th is Bring Your Bible to School Day.

End of Promo Spot:


Jim: Walt, let me ask you this. Why is it so difficult for us as parents to talk to our girls about becoming a woman?

Walt: I think part of it is, it was never modeled to us, but nevertheless it’s our responsibility. If we want to preserve and protect their innocence, it’s up to us.

End of Teaser

John: Well, that’s Dr. Walt Larimore and it’s not the easiest of things to help a young girl become a young woman, but we’re gonna help you do that on today’s broadcast, with Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.

Jim: John, I’m so grateful that Dr. Walt Larimore is here to help us talk about this, because he’s qualified as a physician and he has a daughter. You’ve got teen daughters.

John: Three girls.

Jim: I’ve got two boys, so I don’t know why (Laughing) I’m at the table today.

John: Well, because your boys are gonna be interested in teen girls–

Jim: Okay.

John: –all too soon.

Jim: Okay, so, I’ll just ask the questions uh–

John: For them.

Jim: –you know, that yeah, all of us guys and hopefully some moms will want to know.


Jim: But Walt, welcome back to “Focus on the Family.”

Walt: Jim, it’s good to be here and you know, one day you’re gonna be a grandpa (Laughter) and you may have those granddaughters. And this is a book for grandparents, also.

John: And we have a lot of great resources for you like the book we’ll be talking about here today and articles, links, a variety of audio conversations. All of that is gonna be found, including a previous conversation with Dr. Larimore about boys and becoming young men, when you stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .

John: And I should make note of the title of the book that really is the foundation for today’s conversation, The Ultimate Girl’s Body Book: Not So Silly Questions About Your Body, by Dr. Walt Larimore. And if you haven’t yet determined this, just let me say this up front, as well. We’ll be talking about some things that you might not want to talk about quite yet with your child. So, just be sensitive to that content that’s coming up in the next half hour or so.

Jim: You know, puberty seems like it’s hitting kids earlier and earlier. I don’t know, when I grew up, I thought it was about 13–it seems like now it could be 10, 11–it just seems like girls and boys are both reaching that milestone at a far younger age. Walt, let me ask you that right out of the gate here. Is that true? Am I sensing it right? Is research backing that up?

Walt: You are, Jim and especially in young girls, we’re seeing them head into puberty earlier, some as young as 7- and 8-years-old.

Jim: What’s causing that?

Walt: There’s a huge debate. Is it the obesity that we’re seeing in young children? Is it environmental exposure? Is it what’s in (Chuckling) foods and you know, dyes and preservatives and hormones? And I don’t know that anyone knows the answer, but for those of us that are parents of little girls, it doesn’t really matter why it’s happening (Chuckling).

Jim: It is.

Walt: What in the world can we do about it, ’cause we were hoping and praying that puberty might not hit until 11 or 12. And then we see our kids not only physically changing younger, as you guys talk about all the time in the studio, they’re exposed in the culture younger and younger to more and more potentially harmful stuff.

Jim: Let’s start with the building blocks. I think that’s a good way to get kind of the scientific foundation for what’s happening, how God created our bodies.

Walt: Uh-hm.

Jim: And when we talk about girls becoming women, talk about the hormones. What actually is occurring there?

Walt: Well, they all start up in the brain (Chuckling), his brain and her brain are different. They were divinely designed to be different. [That] they’re as different as night and day and yet, night and day tells us that the universe is operating as it was designed.

And so, those neurotransmitters that begin in the brain and then stimulate some of the endocrine glands to begin producing those hormones, that begin those changes—hair under the arm and pubic hair and then the early periods and then the spurts of growth and then, those emotions that can be as volatile as Vesuvius. (Laughter)

Jim: Okay, the one area I can certainly relate here, I always thought and heard the stories about girls, you know, changing with the hormones and all and having wide emotional swings. But now having a 13-year-old myself, who’s a boy, it’s not just girls that have these things happening, is it?

Walt: No, without question. If you’re not prepared to raise your children not only physically, but emotionally, relationally and spiritually, using the foundation of the home for doing that, then there’s the risk that the kids’ll move into adulthood a little bit behind or a little bit crippled over what they could be. And so the real theme of these books is how do we preserve and protect our kids, the same, Jim and John, that Focus on the Family preserves and protects the family and the home.

Jim: Well, I appreciate that. Getting down to that practical approach though, Walt, for a mom and a dad and perhaps you would recommend that both approach their daughter differently. Describe the difference of how you would do that.

Walt: It’s dramatically different. In fact, in the boys’ book, we recommend that in general dads review this information with–

Jim: Take the lead.

Walt: –their boys. Yes. And with girls, generally women, the mom takes this role. What about the single dad–

Jim: Right.

Walt: –for example, that’s got girls and boy, is there a harder job in the world than being a single parent? You know, I don’t think so. But for the single dad, he may want to take that role, but what we recommend is to find a trusted Christian woman, whether it’s a youth pastor’s wife or your pastor’s wife or a Sunday school leader or a mature Christian woman you know in your church or in your community, perhaps a Christian teacher you know, who you could approach about providing that feminine mom, female role in addressing some of this material.

Jim: And the reason there is, that some girls, rightly and understandably, can feel embarrassed about even talking to their dads about some of the things their body is going through. It might be their first period or other things like that.

Walt: Without a doubt.

Jim: And they don’t know how to talk with their dad about that.

Walt: Well, how many of us dads have experienced that first period? (Laughing) Not very–

Jim: Well, John.

John: Not directly.

Walt: –very many of us.

John: You know.

Walt: That’s exactly right but it’ll vary from family to family, so before you dive into the material, to pray about it, to think about it and decide what’s the best way to meet my child’s needs, given who they are.

John: Hm. I appreciate what you’re saying there, Walt. And Jim, just thinking about the differences between moms and dads, I think it’s so critical. You know, you’ve got boys. You’re trying to raise them to be good young men. And Jean is doing the same thing, you know, helping them become good young men. I’d like to think that I’m helping my girls normalize what a good man is, because as they’re growing up looking around, as they’re dealing with body image and those emotions coming along, I want to normalize for them, I’m with you on this experience and this isn’t anything to be ashamed of. We all go through this.

I went through it when I was your age. It’s different for me, ’cause I’m a guy, but I know that you can make it through this time. It’s a really tough time, ’cause you feel emotional and you don’t think you’re measuring up physically like everybody else is. But I think it’s really important for us as dads to step in and talk with our girls on this and just tell ’em they’re pretty and just …you know, any number of positive comments, it’s all money in the bank, if you will.

Jim: Hm. And that’s good, to be engaged. That’s what I’m hearing. Walt, let me ask you this about those changes. One of the things that’ll happen in a girl’s body as she is becoming a woman, body fat tends to collect around the hips. The hips are wider, those kinds of things. They may be uncomfortable with that. They may have been complimented on how thin they are, the way that the culture reinforces those things that it appreciates. How does a girl in that, you know, 10, 11, 12 range begin to cope with all the comments she’s getting about her body? Which some girls may manage better than others. Some are embarrassed by it, but doggone it, people are noticing me now. They’re noticing that I have curves.

Walt: Uh-hm.

Jim: How does a parent better help her cope with body image?

Walt:  What about the girl who’s a little bit slower in her development–

Jim: Hm.

Walt: –and the comments she’s getting? Or the girl who’s a little bit faster in her development and the comments she’s getting, not just from other girls, but from the boys who are noticing, particularly some of the older boys. What about the girl that has the period a little earlier versus the one that hadn’t had it yet? What about the one that’s overweight? And are diets appropriate or not? What about all of the advertisement emphasizing thinness, thinness, thinness

Jim: Walt, let’s make it practical. Talk to me as your daughter (Chuckling) and yeah, okay.

John: That’s kind of a stretch.

Jim: Thanks, John. I appreciate that. (Laughter) But you know, this is helpful, because I think so often we can get lost in the weeds, you know. And–

Walt: Uh-hm.

Jim: –so, my little girl who’s 13, let’s say she’s you know, she’s developing and she feels self-conscious about it and you notice that maybe she’s a bit moody. She’s down and what do you say to her? You’re sitting at the breakfast table. How are you gonna approach that? You can see my mood is down. Talk with me.

Walt: Uh-hm. I think that one of the things that helped me the most in dealing with Kate, my daughter, as she grew up, was time, devoting time that was just to her. Now that’s hard in a fast-paced society and a lot of parents want to have quality time, but you can’t have quality without quantity.

But within that time, asking questions and listening. “Honey, let’s go take a walk.” Or “Let’s go shoot some hoops.” Or “Let’s go get a Coke.” Or “Let’s go get a milk shake.” Or let’s just … or …

Jim: Okay, now your wife is saying, “It’s 8 in the morning, Walt. You can’t do that.”

Walt: Five minutes, five minutes. But to put her on my lap, when she was 6, 7, 8 and listen. And listen. Those times are critical in our kids’ lives. I’ll tell you a story, Jim that happened right her at Focus on the Family. There was a physicians’ conference. We used to host them every year or two. And I was introducing a man who had written a book about how do you develop margin in your life or your family, as a parent.

And Kate was here in the Institute, studying at the time. And she came with me. And as I was getting ready to introduce the author, Dick Swenson–he’s been a guest on this show–she said, “Daddy, can I do the introduction?” And I said, “Why?” She said, “I’d just like to introduce him.” I said, “Sure, that’ll be fine.”

So, she stood up. She said, “I’m Kate Larimore. My dad’s Walt Larimore and I’m gonna introduce Dr. Swenson. And the way I’m gonna introduce him is this. Throughout my life, daddy gave me gifts for my birthdays and Christmas and Easter and special occasions.” She said, “They were great gifts, but I bet I can’t remember a half dozen of ’em over the last years. But what I can remember is when I was 6-years-old, daddy started spending a day a week with me. When I got home from school, daddy was there, every Tuesday. And the best gift my daddy ever gave me was himself.”

What is that worth? Five minutes a day? Ten minutes a day? An hour a day? Once a week? Of setting that foundation of quantity time in which these type of questions can be asked and answered.

And then there’s the day-to-day walking together. We used to have this little habit in our family. Because of the way culture attacks our kids and tries to sell image to them and clothing to them and makeup and tattoos and hairdos and what have you, what have you, what have you, we actually developed a little habit of asking with an advertisement or when we’d be walking through the mall looking at the advertisement, you know, picture up on the store, what are they trying to sell you? What are they trying to tell you? What lies are they trying to say? And Kate and Scott got really, really good at actually picking away those advertisers on Madison Avenue–

Jim: So, you turned it into a game.

Walt: –and seeing the false … exactly. It became a fun thing. And that’s just a couple things in our family that made a difference.

At the night time, prayer time, which was critical, to take a few minutes either before or after our prayer time and say, “How did today go?” Or those family meals together to say, “What’s happening in your life?” And for your kids to know those family meals aren’t eat and run, but they’re eat and talk.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: Yeah.

Walt: That’s the safe haven, in which questions can be asked and answered.

Jim: Let me ask you this in respect to the body image question, because a lot of moms are struggling with this, as well. And I’m sure their daughters are gonna feed off of the “cueing” that their moms are doing. How does a mom best represent her struggles with the culture telling her what she should look like?

Walt: Yeah, I think it’s critical. Not every parenting expert agrees, but I think it’s critical that if we’ve made some mistakes, that we own up to ’em with our kids at the right time and in the right discussion. Or if we’re struggling with something, that we own up to that.

I’ll give you an example. I came home from work one day and Barb handed me a picture from off the printer and it wasn’t really a very appropriate picture, that one of our kids had found (Laughing) on the Internet. And so, she said, “He’s your son. Deal with it,” whichever of our kids that happened to be.

Jim: Yeah, right. (Laughter)

Walt: And so, I thought what a critical moment, what a critical moment in our kids’ development. So, when Scott came home, we went out to sit on the back porch. And I showed him the image and he immediately disclaimed it. He said, “One of my friends,” you know, “did this. It’s not mine.”

I said, “But let’s talk about this issue of body and pornography and sex and temptation. How are you gonna deal with this? ‘Cause when you put an image in your mind as a young boy, it stays there forever.” And I said, “Before you answer that, Scott, let me tell you something. This is a temptation that everybody wrestles with, including your daddy. So, I don’t only want to talk about protecting you, I want to talk about how you can help me protect myself.”

Until today, 25 years later, Scott and I are still accountability partners. And so, it’s that parenting role which is important, that discipleship role which is important, but also transitioning into that brother and sister in Christ role, where we can go through life together.

So, back to your question, the mom who’s wrestling with those issues, who knows that her daughter is, to be able to sit and talk about that.

Jim: Hm.

Walt: What we try to do here is give them information that they can read together, dissect together, talk about together and then get on with life together, not fearing those teen years. And that’s the most common emotion I find with parents of preteens. They’re scared spitless of what’s getting ready to happen. And I’m here to tell you, get ready for the ride of your life. This is gonna be fun, valuable, critical, important, but you mom and dad, are the key.

Jim: Well, what I hear you saying, Walt is be engaged and I think–

Walt: Uh-hm, uh-hm.

Jim: –I think for both moms and dads what’s difficult in this situation is, especially for me, we’ll retreat. And that’s where we go to fight or flight. So, we choose flight, because we’re uncomfortable talkin’ about this stuff and then we leave it to mom to deal with. And that certainly is good that she’ll take the lead. But I think what you’re saying there is so critical. Create the conversation. Talk about these deep issues. You’ll have more intimacy in your relationship with your children when that happens.

Jim: Let me go back to something you said a moment ago about dieting, because I think in the culture, oh again, it doesn’t matter if you’re a male or a female, I mean now there are diet systems for everybody and they’ll even ship you food if you’re a man or a woman.

Walt: Uh-hm.

Jim: But when it comes to our teen girls or our preadolescent girls, how do we help them manage the diet? And the way that, that is bantered around in schools?

Walt: Uh-hm.

Jim: You know, that girls will be calling each other “fat” and all that other thing. How do we give them again, a healthy perspective on how to manage their eating?

Walt: That’s a critical question, because we know that diets and kids can be physically and emotionally dangerous. We know that if diets are overemphasized, that it can serve as a precursor for eating disorders, which can potentially be fatal. So, what do you do if diets aren’t the answer, if they’re potentially harmful, what do we do?

We emphasize making wise decisions as a family. And this is an area where your preteens and teens can actually take control, because when the family begins to look at its nutritional habits, its exercise or activity habits and perhaps even more importantly, its sleep habits, the family can begin together to make some healthy decisions.

You can start with very, very small steps. It may be for example, you may find that your family’s having fast food four or five times a week. And we know that that’s associated with a slew of bad emotional and physical health outcomes. Yet, it’s easy. It’s inexpensive. Just cut back from four a week to three a week.

Jim: Wait a minute.  You’re saying emotional … you’re saying Big Macs will make you sad?

Walt: Well, think about it. (Laughter)

Jim: They’ve always made me so happy.

Walt: You got that initial satisfaction. Then you’ve got the weight that comes with it.

Jim: Okay.

Walt: And when you talk about weight, now you’ve got bullying issues. You’ve got kids being hammered by other kids. And so, for the family that … you’ve got the two thin kids and the one that’s overweight. We emphasize not addressing the overweight kid. But the whole family talking about, how can we together as a family improve our nutrition?

How do we improve our exercise and physical activity? And it may just be one step a month. Maybe it’s just that after church, taking a walk together before Sunday lunch or whatever it might be. And then a real shocker for parents is sleep. We now know that reduced sleep, no matter what age you are, whether you’re a toddler, or a senior, if you have reduced sleep, you have increased obesity, increased heart disease, increased depression, because the decreased sleep skews your hormones. The hormone that increases your appetite goes up. The hormone that decreases your appetite goes down.

Well, who doesn’t want to have just a little bit more sleep? Well, the average kid’s only sleeping seven hours a night, needs 10 to 11 hours a night. The average adult’s only sleeping seven, six, seven hours a night. Needs eight or nine hours a night. So, maybe it’s just getting 15 minutes more a night of sleep. That’s something everyone can do.

Jim: That sounds funny, but I know in our household, what we do on the weekends, I’ll be telling Trent, ’cause he likes to wake up early. I’m constantly telling him, “Sleep in.” And (Laughing) what teenager hears that from his dad?” (Laughter) But Dr. Arch Hart has been on the broadcast.

John: Uh-hm, yes.

Jim: Has talked a lot about that and so, you know, for me, I’m tellin’ the boys, certainly on the non-school days, “Hey, sleep as long as you can sleep.” They kinda look at me funny.

John: Well, we have an issue right here on sleep all the time that we’re dealing with. Just yesterday, one of my girls came home and took a nap. At 4 o’clock she went to bed. I never saw her again last night. I mean, she just slept through the night–

Jim: Sleep–.

John: –I thought.

Jim: –is good.

John: Well, but she woke up at 12, did school work for a couple of hours and went back to sleep. How Walt, practically, can I help train her without nagging her? Because part of the beauty of this age is they’re learning independence–

Walt: Uh-hm.

John: –and they’ve gotta own some of the consequences.

Walt: Uh-hm.

John: She was actually paying for the previous night where she stayed up until 2 doing a–

Walt: Uh-hm, uh-hm.

John: –paper. So, how do I train without nagging my girl specifically, who is a teenager?

Walt: My granddad used to say, you know, you want to give the kids enough rope to wander, but not enough to hang themselves. (Laughter) And so–

John: Exactly, yes.

Walt: –and that’s different from child to child and family to family. But in the area of sleep, for example, it surprises parents to learn that Coke and chocolate, the caffeine in that has a half-life that can last for eight, 10, 12 hours.

John: But they don’t believe me when I tell them that.

Walt: But one of the house rules can be that after 3 o’clock, none of us are—parents or kids—are gonna have these substances that may keep us awake.

We know that watching TV, being exposed to the computer, working on the computer within an hour of sleep time delays sleep. So, there’s a simple thing that the family can begin to say. We may have to start by saying, “Okay, 15 minutes before bedtime, no more electronics.” And then next week or the next month, it’ll be 30 minutes before, but move that back to an hour.

We know that the presence of electronics, even a SmartPhone or a phone in a kid’s room will disrupt their sleep. Even if it only goes off once a month, it’ll disrupt their sleep with all the negatives. And so, throughout the book we try to give tips on these simple little things that families can begin to do that affect not only the body, but also the emotions.

Jim: Walt, another common teen issue is acne. I don’t if you dealt with that, John.

John: I have and I’ve got teen girls dealing with that.

Jim: Really.

John: They come unglued and you know, at any eruption on their forehead or on their cheek or nose. And they’ve had to battle that with some regularity.

Jim: How do you help your teen daughter deal with that?

Walt: This was a huge issue for our kids. And most of us that went through it ourselves and many of us are still wrestling with an adult acne, understand how difficult it can be. And the bottom line is, that for most kids, it’s fairly easy to treat. And so, we talk about some of the basic treatment principles and along with the fact that if using these home remedies and over-the-counter products, that usually, but not always work, don’t work, that to see your family physician or pediatrician or dermatologist, because not only can you have the marks that can last for a lifetime, but you can have the comments that can last for a lifetime.

Yeah, we can all talk about well, how kids should look at each other, but the fact is, that kids with acne, particularly when it kinda blossoms out, can really take a beating from the bullies. And so, this is an area where we can step in with parents early on. ‘Cause our kids don’t necessarily know that there is treatment. We can help you find it.

John: And we’ve tried to help our girls with over-the-counter treatments. And then, Jim, what I’ve tried to do is just lean into them all the more, knowing that if they’ve got some acne showing, they’re probably feeling pretty self-conscious. And so, I try to make a more concerted effort than I do already just to come alongside them, to give them hugs, even just to give ’em a kiss on the forehead to say, “You’re beautiful” and try to counteract that emotional aspect of acne that I dealt with when I was a kid, that I know that they’re havin’ to wrestle with.

Jim: You know, it’s funny. Troy had one, a little pimple on his chin and Trent got a few pimples last week. And I chose maybe a different path. I was like, “Oh, my goodness, you guys. You are going through puberty. Look at this. You’re starting to get … I had pimples; mom had pimples. This’ll last a little while, but this is the sign that your body’s changing.” And Troy particularly, he was like beaming.

Walt: Uh-hm.

Jim: “Oh, yeah, I got the badge of a pimple.” I mean, he saw it–

Walt: I … I …

Jim: –as a positive.

Walt: I really like that, Jim, because the big pimples, big muscles (Laughter), you know. And it’s like …

Jim: Well, I don’t know if that works, but uh …

Walt: Yeah, but that puberty, ’cause that’s when the muscle development–

Jim: Right.

Walt: –you know, begins and the voice begins to deepen for him.

Jim: That’s true.

Walt: But John, you’ve hit on something really crucial that we spend a whole chapter talking about and that is, that God designs our wives, our girls to want to be beautiful. They are divinely designed to want to be beautiful for the King of Kings to be His princess and for us to tell them throughout their lives, to reflect to them the beauty that we see in them, that comes not from their skin, but from their heart and from their soul. And as a daddy, we cannot say that enough to our girls.

The research shows, Jim, that a mother’s affirmation of her girls and her boys is critical. It’s indispensable; it’s invaluable. But it pales to a daddy’s. It’s just, there’s something about that daddy-daughter affirmation, that father-son affirmation. Is the mother’s role critical? Absolutely.

But it just goes to show that God designed kids to have a mom and a dad. And for those who are listening today who don’t have that dad or don’t have that mom, then it becomes more critical to find those opposite sex role models, that one or two or three. If you’re a single mom, that one or two or three men that you’re gonna expose those boys to, because you can be their mom, but you can’t be their dad.

Jim: Walt, we’re wrappin’ up, but there are some questions that I still want to ask you. I think it’d be great to continue this chat online and maybe we can hit some more sensitive issues. But let’s do that. Stick with us and we’ll go online and continue the Q&A. But let me end with this, Walt. For the parent perhaps that is two years too late having the discussion, there’s already this separation that’s occurred emotionally. They didn’t know how to respond. They backed up–

Walt: Uh-hm.

Jim: –rather than moving forward. And how do they re-engage. What’s that conversation sound like?

Walt: It’s never too late to be a parent. I’ll give you an example. I’m in a men’s group and one of the men is a banker. And through our study, he’s become convicted that he made a lot of missteps as a dad. He was absent. He was in the military. He was a fighter pilot. He tried to provide the best he could. But he made a lot of missteps.

And here he is in his 60s, realizing that and he’s separated from his two boys. They’re separated physically. They’re separated emotionally. They haven’t spoken in years. And as a group, we began to pray for him and with him.

And what he was led to do was to travel, buy a plane ticket and travel in one case to Atlanta, one case to Miami to visit with his boys, just to ask for a cup of coffee or a meal, to sit down and his only agenda item was to say, “I’ve just realized what a terrible job I did as your dad.”

Jim: Hm.

Walt: “And I want to apologize to you. If you don’t forgive me, that’s okay. I would understand. But I love you. I want to apologize and I want to begin again if you do.” In both cases, those adult men, those tough guys broke down in tears and embraced their dad. God has divinely designed a connection between moms and dads and their children. Can we goof it up? Absolutely. But we serve and love and have a relationship with a God who can and will redeem us and our relationships, if we seek Him first.

Jim: Well, there’s always hope. Let’s continue, we’ll call it the web extra. Let’s take the conversation there.


John: Well, as the dad to three girls, I’m really appreciating the conversation and I’m looking forward to more from Dr. Walt Larimore. And to get those extra pieces of audio or to donate to the ministry of Focus on the Family, go to www.focusonthefamily.com/radio and while you’re there, look for more information about Walt’s book, The Ultimate G

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