As important as it is to teach your young girls about breast cancer awareness, it’s just as important to do it in a way that doesn’t scare them off of them. According to a Breastcancer.org survey, a whopping 30% of girls ages 8-18 think they have breast cancer, even though it’s incredibly rare for such young girls to have it. Why do they think this? Two reasons: media and misinformation. There’s not a whole lot you can do about media, but you can handle misinformation. It’s your job as a parent to help your teen wade through all the information thrown at them and really understand what breast cancer awareness means.
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Talking Breast Cancer Awareness With Young Girls
When you sit down to discuss breast cancer awareness with young girls, your goal is to make sure they have the tools they need to prevent it and the knowledge to know how to catch it early. You also want to make sure they have and understand the real facts. Take a look at our tips on how to discuss breast cancer with young girl without scaring them.
- Keep your own fears out of it. Parents fear for their kids in so many ways. Moms of girls have added fears of their daughters developing breast cancer. These fears can seep into your voice, affect your words and send a frightening message. Our kids know us so well, they can pick up on all our vibes. Before going into the conversation, tell yourself “my child does not have breast cancer.” Repeat it a few times. This grounding technique helps calm your brain, so you can focus on the facts.
- Find what they “know.” Start by asking your daughter what she thinks she knows about breast cancer. How does she think it happens? Many young girls believe that it’s caused by infection and can be “caught.” What does she think about the symptoms? Finding out what she knows helps you alleviate her fears and debunk the myths she may believe.
- Discuss normal breast changes. Once you have an understanding of her knowledge of breast cancer, talk about the normal changes she can expect as she grows. Explain that things like breast tenderness during her period are completely normal. Talking about the “norm” before getting into the breast cancer awareness discussion is important. If you lead with symptoms of breast cancer, she’ll likely hear one that relates to her and tune out the rest of the conversation. Her mind will go to “I have breast cancer.” That’s it. You’ve lost her attention. When I was fixated on an idea as a teen, no amount of reasoning could bring me back from the edge!
- Give her the numbers that relate to her. Explain that most cases of breast cancer occur in women over age 50. Only 11% occur in younger women, and the majority of those cases still occur in women over 30. She probably has a better chance of winning the lottery than getting breast cancer before she graduates high school, and she’s not even old enough to play!
- Discuss prevention and risk factors. While cancer isn’t ever completely preventable, there are some things every woman can do. Tell her not to smoke. When she’s old enough to drink, she should limit alcohol to special occasions (it’s unrealistic to tell her to never, ever pick up a drink). Encourage her to stay physically active. The Mayo Clinic has a great article on other things you can do to prevent breast cancer. Explain how to do a self-exam and the importance of discussing concerns with you or her doctor.
- Talk about the symptoms. NOW is the time to talk about symptoms, AFTER you’ve given her all the other facts. Signs include lumps in the breast, bloody discharge from the nipples, skin changes around the breast and changes in size or shape. Remind her that changes are normal while she grows. Let her know that even a lump is not a sure sign, as many women can have harmless fibroids. While symptoms should be discussed with a doctor, they alone are not a diagnosis.
- Reiterate the facts. While it’s important to present the symptoms after the facts, it’s also vital that you not end the conversation with the symptoms. Go back to those facts about teens being at low risk. Remind her that breast cancer is not contagious, it’s not something you “catch.” Readdress the fears. Think about it this way: the last thing you hear in a conversation is usually the thing that sticks with you. We want her to go away with the facts, not the fears.
Following this system for discussing breast cancer awareness with your daughter will hopefully alleviate the worst of her fears, and yours too! We want our girls to be informed so they can catch breast cancer early if the worst should happen to them. We don’t want them walking around terrified though.
What do you think? Do you have any tips to discuss breast cancer awareness with girls without scaring them half to death? Share in the comments.