Talking to an Adolescent About Hygiene
Teenagers know the basics of good hygiene. They understand the importance of washing each day, brushing their teeth and shampooing their hair but when they hit puberty their bodies fly out of control and they must learn a new set of rules. Having a frank, private discussion about hygiene is a great way for parents to let adolescents know that everything they are experiencing is normal. It also allows parents to explain to teens why their bodies are changing and make recommendations about new hygiene practices and products. Parents can also use this discussion to advise teens about what is not normal, and what to do if they experience abnormal changes.
Speak Frankly and PrivatelyWhen you decide it’s time to talk to your adolescent do so frankly, with clinical language if you feel more comfortable, and privately. This is a topic that necessarily focuses on their bodies, so teens usually find it embarrassing. If possible, take your teen aside for this chat before they begin to experience puberty so that they aren’t left wondering if something that has happened to them or something they did was the catalyst for the talk. Even though they shouldn’t, many teens will end up feeling as though they are somehow at fault if a parent has to tell them they are not coping with puberty correctly.
Reassure Your TeenAs you begin your chat reassure your teen that everything that is happening to him or her is completely normal. Remind your teen that puberty happens to everyone, and whether (s)he experiences it before or after friends doesn’t really matter. You may even consider relating a story about your own feelings during this time of your life but remember that over-sharing can be embarrassing for both you and your teen and could actually result in him or her “turning off” for the rest of your discussion.
Explain Changes to Your TeenAs you discuss personal hygiene you’ll need to talk about why a new regime is necessary. This means acknowledging the changes your adolescent’s body will undergo. Explain that (s)he should prepare for, among other things:
- Hair growing beneath the arms.
- Hair growth near the genitals.
- Increased sweating.
- Increased oil production.
- Breast development.
- Potential height and weight gain.
- Body odour.
- Vaginal discharge.
- Deepening of the voice.
- Facial hair.
- Hormone surges accompanied by mood swings.
Make Recommendations for Your TeenAfter explaining to your adolescent all of the changes his or her body will undergo, make recommendations about how best to cope with these new issues. Good hygiene may seem instinctive when you’ve been practising it for decades but teens are new to this topic. If possible, touch on:
- Wearing antiperspirant or deodorant and your recommended brands.
- Showering daily and preferred brands of soap or body wash.
- Shaving routines and products (facial for boys, leg/underarm for girls).
- Dealing with female facial hair (plucking, waxing, threading, using a depilatory).
- Coping with hair at the bikini line (products, methods and routines).
- Fighting facial acne (daily washes and acne treatments).
- Fighting body acne (cleaning, drying, treating).
- Easing symptoms of PMS.
- Products and advice for dealing with menstruation.
- Products and advice when experiencing vaginal discharge.
- Good oral hygiene and fighting bad breath.
- Cleaning and clipping nails on fingers and toes.
- Healthy diet.
- Good sleep routines.
Advise About the AbnormalAdolescents often worry that they are the only ones experiencing body changes, and as such there will be no way for them to maintain good hygiene. Let your teen ask you any questions (s)he may have and offer to help him or her research products for particular concerns. Also touch on changes or hygiene routines which are abnormal (insomnia, juice fasts, coloured discharges, bleeding gums, etc) and remind your teen that if they experience something concerning they should talk to you, a trusted teacher, a GP or another adult.
Talking to an adolescent about hygiene has the potential to be embarrassing for you both, but speaking frankly and privately should help alleviate some of the tension. Reassure your teen about puberty and explaining what will happen and what kind of products and routines are important for keeping up with good personal hygiene throughout. Also advise your teen about abnormal changes, routines and products so that (s)he doesn’t suffer through anything (s)he shouldn’t have to.