Raising an American Girl: Beyond Molly, Kit and Josephina

May 16, 2011 by Katy Brown
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An American Girl grows up.

During my daughter’s 7-year-old check-up, I chatted with our pediatrician about junior high and how times have most certainly changed.

“I dread the day I find a note in Ava’s backpack asking for permission to let the health nurse talk to the girls in her class,” I giggled.

“The health nurse? Middle school? What planet are you from?” she exclaimed.

There’s this little place called Naïve.  Maybe you’ve heard of it?

What do you mean? No health nurse? No starched white uniform, white cap, white tights, and white shoes?  No VHS video? No permission slip? What?

This was the moment that our doctor-family relationship merged into a true friendship between women.  Rather than dosing medical advice, my favorite pediatrician was speaking to me mother-to-mother, and I was desperately grateful for her insight.

“You have to be willing and able to answer her questions about life before someone else tells her about it,” she continued. “And, you will hear things that’ll make your forehead sweat and hands shake.”

I admit — girls aren’t made the way they used to be.  As one father remarked about his son’s new girlfriend(s), “Every one of them looks like they could be on the cover of Maxim.”

If I remember correctly, I learned about the facts of a girl’s life when I was 12 and in the 7th grade.  Society (and the media, technology, and milk producers in my opinion) have now forced us to at least start conversations in the 4th grade — or by the age of nine.

What happens when a nine-year-old’s body physically matures before she’s emotionally mature enough to handle it?  Understand it?

As a writer, I’m paid never to be at a loss for words.  But as a mother, I’m already too shocked to know where or how to begin.  Thankfully, I’ve found help.

American Girl Publishing, Inc., has branched out beyond dolls and accessories and into the book industry, promoting fiction and non-fiction that encourage young girls to “stand tall, reach high and dream big.” While the books are aimed at tweens and teens, they’re quite possibly most beneficial to the mother (or father) tasked with explaining what happens when.

In The Care & Keeping of YOU: The Collection, a boxed set of guides tackle the most intimidating topics of the age — “The Body Book for Girls”, “The Feelings Book,” and two companion journals.  The set also includes a pouch for storing body-care supplies.

Also on bookstore shelves are titles such as What Would You Do? Quizzes for Real Life Problems; Food & You – Eating Right, Being Strong and Feeling Great;  A Smart Girl’s Guide to Understanding Her Family – Feelings, Fighting & Figuring it Out; and A Smart Girl’s Guide to Starting Middle School.

Unlike the early versions of Our Bodies, Ourselves (which embarassed and scared the daylights out of me), the American Girl books are kinder, gentler and much more polite.  As with most everything in life, it’s best to approach the subject in moderation….a type of puberty portion control for parents.  A good friend of mine shared sections of The Care & Keeping of YOU with her daughter, but glued some pages together to keep her from reading more than she needed to know at the time.  Of course, she ripped the pages apart when Mom wasn’t home.

I’ve always choked on the $95 doll pricetag, but my attitude has changed since discovering a new world of American Girl products.  The Care and Keeping of YOU just might be the survival guide we mothers have been looking for all along.

Well, that and a bottle of vodka.

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8 Responses to “Raising an American Girl: Beyond Molly, Kit and Josephina”

  1. Carrie NillesNo Gravatar says:

    This book was a life saver. We started reading it about aged 8 and it still sits on the shelf of my 11 year old’s room. As for waiting until Middle School, the talk is given in Cabell County in 5th grade. Just before the school talk, we got It’s So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley. Also really well done but a more mature look at the topic. However, cartoons and drawings instead of photos make it a bit more palatable. I have a friend who is a Mom to boys and she used this as well.

  2. Katy BrownNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks, Carrie! This blog was a little one-sided since I have girls, but I know many parents with sons who need a little help approaching the topic.

  3. Bonnie MarquisNo Gravatar says:

    I’d also like to recommend ‘From Diapers To Dating” which talks a great deal about how to talk to our kids about sexuality across their development – which is really much more than just reproduction BTW… and how really ‘THE talk’ really does do a dis-service to our kids – we need to captilize on teachable moments throughout their development – and yes portion control is very important… I read it when my daughter was an infant and don’t ever loan it out because I like to have it as a reference…

    My daughter is 7 and has always seen birth picitures, (as a former doula and midwife junkie it was inevitable) and loves the book Being Born… so none of this is a mystery to her and just a very normal part of life – she did have some more ‘pointed’ questions recently and it was admittedly awkward and tricky to navigate but I firmly believe we must NEVER LIE to our children if we want them to trust us and come to US for information… The book I mentioned (sorry forget the author) was extremely helpful in all of this – and I love your suggestion on using the American Doll products –

  4. Elizabeth Damewood GaucherNo Gravatar says:

    I was a sexuality educator once upon a time, and it was one of the coolest jobs ever. Among other things, I helped Head Start programs write parent-teacher designed policies for children’s early learning about sexuality at school. HEAD START and that was almost 20 years ago! I am amazed at all of the opportunity children give us to gently lead them through a years-long process of understanding, respecting, and appreciating this mysterious part of ourselves.

    I taught parent-child classes too for middle schoolers, and it was just heartbreaking how many parents would break down and cry when I asked them how they learned about sex. There are generations of adults who know nothing but shame and fear about their own bodies. BREAK THE CYCLE. Talk as soon as your child is curious, which for us was age two. :)

  5. Karan I.No Gravatar says:

    I bought the American Girl books for Genevieve for Christmas this year. We sort of put them aside, but I am looking to crack them open with her soon!

  6. Beth HenryNo Gravatar says:

    This brought back a lot of sweet memories from my Mother’s attempt to disclose the wonders of womanhood. Well, “sweet” probably isn’t the adjective I should use. How about “horrified” and “uncomfortable?” Since my mom and I had never uttered a word to one another about … gulp … sex … how could she be expected to lay her cards on the table and then get back to laundry stains and Betty Crocker? “The talk” was a miserable failure, and the following day, I was given what I suppose would be likened to the the Cliff Notes of Sexuality.” And, to be honest, I finally learned about most of it from Carol VanKirk. Too bad Carol can’t be there for you!! Good luck!!!

  7. Katy BrownNo Gravatar says:

    Oh, yes…I got the Cliff Notes version, too. My mother couldn’t bring herself to telling me about the birds and the bees, so she told me about cats and kittens. I guess that was easier for her, but good lord…I was so confused! LOL!

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