Girls benefit from accurate knowledge and positive outlooks about their changing bodies and changing emotions – before and during puberty. It also helps to have women in their lives whom they can trust and talk to as they mature.
Girl Talk, led by nurses at the UAB Women & Infants Center (WIC), is a safe space for group learning and conversations about puberty that is available for girls ages 8-12 and their mothers (or a trusted adult). The group was created 20 years ago in partnership with the Girl Scouts, and it’s been continually updated over the years. The 90-minute sessions include a range of learning tools and fun activities that are led by WIC nurses who care for women every day, through all phases of life.
“Girls learn about their bodies, getting their periods, relationships, and the normal physical and emotional changes of puberty in a fun environment with their mothers and other girls their age,” said Freda Centor, RN, MSN, an advanced nursing coordinator at the WIC and coordinator of Girl Talk.
Even more so than with boys, girls face self-esteem challenges from social media and a more connected and judgmental social environment. “They need a safe place to explore all the issues coming their way,” Centor said. “And even more importantly, they need to see their mothers and women authority figures as confidants. It starts the conversation that not all mothers are comfortable starting.”
Girl Talk helps accomplish four main goals:
- The sessions relay basic, objective knowledge about puberty that nurses consider essential for girls. This includes explaining the range of “normal” things they may see or feel, preparing them for the changes that accompany their first period, teaching them to choose and use feminine products, and helping them recognize complex emotions. “We anticipate embarrassment or awkwardness during the anatomy and physiology portions of the sessions and keep it casual, even while making sure that proper terms and definitions are used,” Centor said.
- Girl Talk prepares them for social changes happening around them, especially those that create a sense of pressure about their bodies or force them to make choices that involve risk and require good judgment. To help with this, the nurses lead participants through a roleplaying exercise.
- It removes the taboo from topics surrounding puberty. “Sure, it starts with some eye-rolling and giggling, but that’s fine – that’s usually a first step to getting comfortable,” Centor said. In talking together, the girls hear how normal their concerns are and how puberty might be a little different for each girl. “We help them relax about everyday things – for example, we dip tampons in red-dyed water to show the girls how they work.”
- Finally, it establishes trusted adults as confidants, setting the stage for future value-based conversations at home. The adults participate in the sessions, and the nurses remind the girls that they can learn more about what to expect by asking their moms or other trusted adults. Mothers often tell Centor that the conversations on the ride home are interesting and show that barriers have been lowered. Although they set the stage, the sessions do not discuss sexual intercourse whatsoever, Centor emphasized.
Simple but powerful messages
The Girl Talk sessions are guided by a PowerPoint presentation and broken up by activities, roleplaying, and a video. Speaking up is encouraged, but girls are given the option to write down any sensitive or embarrassing questions anonymously and place them in a box to be discussed at the end.
Nurses at the WIC are enthusiastic about leading Girl Talk because they care for women throughout their lives, Centor said, adding that nurse managers help choose the instructors.
Girls leave the sessions with a folder that includes anatomy illustrations, a puberty quiz, and important handouts relevant to this age group. Girls and mothers are asked to fill out evaluation forms to share feedback on how to make the sessions even better.
“We raise awareness without raising alarms – these changes are coming, and it’s going to be okay for them,” Centor said. “Our messages are simple but powerful: understand your body, own it, make good decisions, and trust the loving women in your life.”
Each session is limited to 30 participants, or 15 girl/adult pairs. The cost is $5 per girl (moms are not charged), and snacks and parking are included. Girl Talk sessions in 2024 will be held from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on the following Saturdays:
- Jan. 20
- March 16
- May 11
- July 20
- Sept. 14
- Nov. 16
Click here to learn more about Girl Talk or register for a 2024 session.
To make an appointment with one of the expert pediatric and adolescent gynecologists at UAB Medicine, please call 205-996-3130.