It was the week of Valentine’s day, and I was busy teaching a class to one of my high school teen-girl groups. I noticed that Sarah* looked worried and distracted. After my lesson, I called her aside to check if she was okay.

She wasn’t.

Sarah met a boy who ‘sweet-talked’ her into sending a private picture of herself to him. As soon as he received what he wanted, he changed from being sweet and funny to a cold, manipulative and scary monster. He blackmailed her, threatening that if she doesn’t send the photos of herself that he ‘demands’ by 10 o’clock that evening, he will place that private photo of her on social media for everyone to see.

Sarah was only 15 years old. And what scared me more was that this ‘monster’ boy was only 15 too.

I’m so very grateful that Sarah opened up to me that day, trusting me enough to show me the trouble that she was in, so that I could help her to get out of this nightmare.

It was a long process, met with a lot of resistance from her at first, ’cause she was so very scared that she will be ‘exposed’. There were many tears. But she eventually agreed with me that we had to take action. With the help of her school principal, school counsellor and her parents, we managed to close this horrible chapter for her. The boy was appropriately disciplined and received the help he clearly desperately needed.

But this reminded me again – our daughters are growing up as young girls in a world that gives them grown-up problems to deal with.

So what can we as parents do to help and support them the best we can?

My first answer to this is trust and healthy communication with your child. About everything. You cannot just talk about the ‘easy’ stuff. In Sarah’s case, she had a good relationship with her parents, but opted to share this with me, not with them, because “they never talk about this type of thing”.

So how do we practically do this, especially when it comes to our pre-teens that are only 8 – 12 years old?

1) First, when she does ask ‘an uncomfortable’ question, do not give the “you’re too young, we’ll talk about this when you’re older” answer. She’s asking you now, meaning she’s thinking about it NOW. And if you don’t give her the answer, Google will. (And who knows what else she’ll discover online in the process?)

2) Act like the adult. When conversations that are uncomfortable pops up, this is not the time to play the ‘I’m too embarrassed’ card. If you look and act embarrassed, your child will feel even more embarrassed too. So put on your ‘poker face’ (and adult panties!) and handle it like the adult that you are – make eye contact and answer her questions as best you can.

3) Be human, and add a tad of humour too. Sometimes sharing some of your own stories and how ’embarrassing things’ happened to you too, will show your child that you are actually human too. She will feel more relaxed around you and will probably trust you even more when you can admit that you too were wondering about ‘these things’ as a young girl.

4) Really listen, and trust your gut. While you’re having this conversation with your pre-teen, listen very carefully to what she’s actually asking you. Sometimes all she needed at that point was a short and simple answer, not the full A-Z. But her body language and responses will give you the clues, so listen carefully, and listen to your mother instinct and ‘gut’ to guide you to choose age-appropriate words that she can easily understand and relate to.

5) Build trust. And one of the best ways to do this is through assuring your child of your unconditional love for her. Make sure she knows that NOTHING will ever change your love for her. In Sarah’s case, this was a big concern for her – she was worried that should her parents find out about what she did, they will not love her anymore. We often say the “I love you part”, but make sure you also add the “…no matter what” ever so often too.

6) Broaden your topics. In most households, there is plenty of conversation around schoolwork, food, activities, friends, discipline, family, extra-murals, technology… But in order for your daughter to see that mom and I can talk about ANYTHING (again, building trust), you need to broaden these ‘general’ topics too. And this is where I can help: The lessons inside my Girl-School Video Course for pre-teen girls will no doubt spark unique, healthy conversations between you and your daughter. Since you can watch the videos together from the comfort and safety of your own home, you will know exactly what she’s learning and you can then continue these conversations with her.
Many parents have shared with me how valuable this was for their mother-daughter relationship. Not only did their daughter learn valuable, empowering and inspiring content, but they also bonded and became her go-to person for questions about life and “girly” stuff.

And just in case you’re wondering… In the Girl-School Video Course, there is no ‘sex education’ and I also do not talk about periods. Again, I strongly feel that it is your, the parent’s, privilege and responsibility to have these conversations with your own daughter. Why? Because she will have more questions as she gets older, and she needs to know that she can talk to YOU about these ‘uncomfortable’ topics. In the personal hygiene module,  she will learn valuable lessons and healthy habits in terms of general personal hygiene, and I only touch on the hygiene aspect of periods, not the why’s and the how’s.

Our daughters are growing up fast, and this pre-teen time is the ideal time to build trust and communication because the “big girl problems” WILL cross her path in some way or form.

Like Sarah, she will need an adult she can trust to talk to and to help her to deal with these issues in a responsible and safe manner while still feeling loved unconditionally by the people she treasures the most, her parents

* name changed