Helping Girls Grow Up Healthy

Your daughter is growing up. Your once tiny tot is changing before your eyes into a young lady. Her body. Her feelings. Her thoughts. The things she cares about and wants answers to are changing as well. No matter how well you’ve developed a relationship with your daughter that encourages her to come to you for answers, you can’t be expected to know everything.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be the one-stop wizard of growing up.

Today, in the practice of family medicine, more doctors embrace the importance of treating the whole person. This is particularly important when treating children and teens, who are in the midst of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual change on a level they may never experience at any other time in their life. Your pediatrician or family doctor is a great resource for getting tips on how to tread into these new waters with your daughter.

But, today, the Internet with its endless resources can be a great little helper to doctors and parents. It places many sources of answers at your fingertips as a parent. In this article, we’ll look briefly at 10 websites that can help you talk to your daughter about her health and growing up.

1. GirlsHealth.gov

GirlsHealth.gov is an award-winning website created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office on Women’s Health. It’s designed for girls ages 10 to 16. Its purpose is to help girls learn about their own health and growing up.

GirlsHealth.gov promotes healthy and positive behaviors in girls. Their motto is "Be Happy. Be Healthy. Be You. Beautiful." The topics covered on the site are wide-ranging and presented in a fun and informative format.

Here’s a sampling of what your daughter and you can find at GirlsHealth.gov:

  • Nutrition basics: What does healthy eating mean for a girl her age? How can she visit her favorite fast-food restaurant and still eat healthily? How can she determine a healthy weight range for her age and height, rather than paying attention to magazine covers?
  • Body changes: What’s happening to her body? Are there more changes to come? Will they be exciting or painful? How should she think about these changes?
  • Fitness: How can she make fitness a part of her life that she enjoys?
  • Feelings: What’s healthy self-esteem and how can she be more confident if she’s not? What are some healthy ways to handle stress, anxiety, and anger? How can she know if she’s depressed? What should she do if she is? Her friend cuts herself and talks about suicide a lot. Why?

There is much more on the site, and it can be a great source of information for sparking conversations between you and your daughter. GirlsHealth.gov also supports discussions among girls through its interactive Facebook community at http://www.facebook.com/girlshealth.

2. YoungWomensHealth.org

Created by Boston Children’s Hospital, this website offers a series of health guides on a variety of topics of interest to girls. The website explains its mission as:

“to help teen girls, their parents, teachers, and health care providers improve their understanding of normal health and development, as well as of specific diseases and conditions. We want to empower teen girls and young women around the world to take an active role in their own health care.”

Visit to find health guides on everything from nutrition and fitness to general health, reproductive health and sexuality, and emotional health. There’s also a version in Spanish http://www.youngwomenshealth.org/by_topic.html and one for guys http:// www.youngmenshealthsite.org/by_topic.html. There’s a separate guide for parents.

3. Girls Inc.org

Girls need to be inspired! Girls Inc. celebrates girls and empowers them to speak up for themselves. Girls Inc. is a movement that dates back to the Industrial Revolution. It’s all about building self-esteem and self-confidence in girls ages 6 to 18 through mentoring. This nonprofit organization teaches girls the skills and judgment to take risks that can help them discover their gifts and grow into them. Math and science, sports, financial literacy, and pregnancy and drug use prevention are just some of the areas that this organization focuses on to help girls become all they can be.

4. Stop Bullying.com

Kids often don’t tell their parents if they’re being bullied. They’re ashamed. Similarly, kids rarely brag to their parents if they’re the ones doing the bullying. They don’t see themselves as doing anything particularly wrong. Is bullying a part of your daughter’s experience, either as a victim or a threat? Do you know the signs or how to start the conversation about this subject? StopBullying.com can help. Kids have their own page on the website, http:// www.stopbullying.gov/kids/index.html.

5. iEmily.com

iEmily.com was created for girls by a former junior high school teacher who later became the CEO of Emerson Hospital in Boston. This health and wellness site features articles, recipes, and forums designed to be entertaining and educational for young girls and teens. Girls can watch videos to learn yoga, take quizzes to learn fun health facts, look up the meaning of various health terms in the site’s built-in dictionary, and read an article to learn how to make a mean but healthy cocoa dip for their apples.

Some of the material may be considered sensitive for younger children, but all content is reviewed by doctors, psychologists, nutrition experts, and teachers for age appropriateness. Children under 13 are required to get parental approval before subscribing to their newsletter.

6. Proud2BMe.org

Self-acceptance. The older they grow, the harder this becomes for too many girls. The pressures on girls to be beautiful start early. No matter how hard you work as a parent to help your daughters see their own beauty, outside pressures can override your efforts. All it takes sometimes is one thoughtless or cruel word from another child or an adult.

Proud2bMe.org, a site created by teen girls, focuses on helping girls develop a healthy self- image. Its goal is to promote positive body image within girls and healthy attitudes about food and weight. The site addresses perfectionism in girls, body image, eating disorders, and more. Girls will find their share of fashion and skin care topics, but they focus on creating a realistic view of normal results. Through girls’ stories, the site tackles ways to “keep it real” in teen magazines, music, books, and other media that shape girls’ self-image.

7. WebMD: Teen Girls’ Health

Puberty. Skin care. The Girls’ Guide to Guys. It’s all here in physician-approved detail. What are the top 12 health topics discussed by teen girls? According to WedMD, it’s alcohol, bad breath, binge eating, suicide prevention, obesity, parties, self-esteem, smart snacks, virginity, exercise, tobacco, and beverages that mix alcohol and caffeine. Not what you expected? Like many of us, you’ll probably learn as much as your teen daughter does when you visit. Check out the slideshow and the discussion of What Girls Need to Grow Up at http://teens.webmd.com/girls- puberty-10/slideshow-girls-changing-body.

8. Your First Gynecologic Exam: What to Expect

It’s time for your daughter’s first pelvic exam, and you’re finding it challenging to prepare her for her doctor’s visit. This excellent article at the WebMD website may be just what the doctor ordered. It’s an important opportunity to help your daughter take pride in the changes she’s seeing in her body and her ability to be more proactive in her doctor’s visits. The article will help you frame this important discussion. This article is part of a great series on WebMD, called “Girls Growing Up.”

9. Information for Youths

See http://www.findyouthinfo.gov/youth-topics for a list of the topics the site covers. It’s not specifically focused on girls, but it’s listed here for its attention to programs that foster:

The website is the product of work by 17 federal government agencies focused on creating programs that aid young people.

10. Go Ask Alice

Originally written for students of Columbia University when it debuted in 1993, this website now answers questions from everyone from high school students to parents to professionals. It’s one of the oldest healthcare websites online, and it’s an amazing Q&A library of questions young people ask about their health.

Go Ask Alice is updated weekly, and it covers a wide range of health issues. You’ll find articles on everything from general health to nutrition, emotional health, relationships, and sexuality. The people behind this website are healthcare providers and others with advanced degrees in medicine, psychology, public health, and other health-related fields. Their answers are written in a fun, but informative, language. It’s plain talk for everyday people. This resource is not intended for young children.

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Want to talk to someone in your community about the changes your daughter (or son) is going through? Eisner Pediatric & Family Medical Center has a team of doctors and healthcare professionals who can help you: