When it comes to discussing pelvic health with your daughter, the sooner the better.

Don't wait till puberty.

For young girls and teenagers, talking about periods, sex, and pelvic health can be ... awkward.

Unfortunately, as a society, we seem to ignore the pelvic region until puberty. According to Missy Lavender, founder of To Know Is to Know — a nonprofit that will educate girls and their grownups about all things pelvic — and author of the book "Below Your Belt," it's a scary trend.

"From a pretty young age, we were completely ignorant and passive-aggressive about our pelvises," Lavender says. "We kind of shove them aside to that icky place we only look at once a month."


But halting conversation about the pelvic region — the area of the body that houses reproductive organs and essential digestive organs — can cause serious health problems for young girls.

Our hush-hush culture around female pelvic health has created generations of girls and women with chronic pelvic disorders.

All images via iStock.

According to a number of studies, around one-third of U.S. women have a pelvic floor disorder, and research from Lavender's foundation shows that at a young age, many girls are already symptomatic with preventable issues that can follow them into adulthood if not addressed.

The lack of knowledge also leaves women ill-prepared for common life events related to the pelvis, such as the start of menstruation, sexual activity and sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and childbirth, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

To prevent these problems, Dr. Deepa Camenga, assistant professor and pediatrician at the Yale School of Medicine, says we need to talk openly about the pelvic region with our daughters at an early age.

"When we drop our kids off for camp, we remind them of healthy habits like 'Be sure to put on sunscreen before and after the pool' and 'Wash your hands,' but we rarely remind our kids to go to the bathroom," Camenga says. "Holding it" for too long, she says, may increase the chance of developing pelvic muscle disorders, incontinence/bladder leaking, and urinary tract infections in the future.

This advice might sound silly or obvious to an adult ear, but the truth is pelvic and toilet health is learned.

It's up to parents and educators to teach girls what's going on with their bodies. It's a matter of their health.

Here are a few do's and don'ts on talking pelvic health with your daughter:

  1. Do your homework. Some of us adults don't have the full story on our pelvises either. Consult with your child's pediatrician for helpful reminders and tips. There are resources (including "Below Your Belt") available to help address the whole picture of what's going on "down there."
  2. Do engage early and take advantage of youthful curiosity. The earlier you can begin the conversation, the less likely the topic will already be stigmatized for your child. Any time they hint at a question about their pelvic region, engage. Smaller questions are sometimes the gateway to larger issues. Camenga says if your child is younger, feed into their curiosity about toilet behavior. "They'll be asking all sorts of questions about their bodies, so when questions come up about down there, address it head-on."
  3. Do make the conversation natural and easy. If you show it's not weird for you (even if it is), it'll help them relax and speak freely on the topic. "Answering questions in a matter-of-fact way helps de-stigmatize the conversation as well," Carmenga says. "When your kids perceive it as part of the everyday conversation and not as special and secretive, they're more likely to be open."
  4. Don't frame it as "The Talk." Pelvic health isn't focused on the birds and the bees. Camenga says treating this as "The Talk" can create a feeling that pelvic health should be secretive and only discussed in certain environments.
  5. Do include pelvic health in your list of healthy reminders. Things like wiping front to back, not "holding it," and reminders that using the bathroom is a healthy act can go a long way.
  6. Do connect in ways that make sense to them. There are plenty of apps, games, and books available to engage kids in different ways. Lavender has raised funds to create an app called Below Your Belt to accompany her book.
  7. Do keep in mind that health education classes don't cover everything. Many health classes don't even begin until pubescent ages for most students, so the importance of regular bathroom use and encouraging discussion when something — good or bad — is happening below the belt aren't being reinforced in the classroom. Studies have confirmed that "while school-based health education has been found to be effective in increasing knowledge of sexual function and behaviors, current efforts lack a comprehensive approach to understanding the pelvic area of the female body and the interrelatedness of the organs and muscle functions."

Even if it feels awkward, an open dialogue with your daughter about her pelvis is essential to her health.

Teaching good habits and building a foundation of openness at a young age will help your daughter stay healthy and keep lines of communication open through the thorniness of puberty.

So talk it out. It could make for more happy, healthy young women in the world.

Family

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

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