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How to deal with the roller coaster ride that's puberty

Tisca Chopra’s new book acts as an older friend, that has sensible ideas on everything from your changing body to pimples and periods, hygiene and safety to self-worth and relationships

'What’s Up With Me', published by Red Panda, the children’s imprint of Westland Publications, is the kind of friend every adolescent and pre-teen needs
'What’s Up With Me', published by Red Panda, the children’s imprint of Westland Publications, is the kind of friend every adolescent and pre-teen needs

As one browses through Tisca Chopra’s new book, one can’t help but rue the fact that we didn’t have something like this while growing up. What kind of bra would fit you, should you opt for sanitary napkins, menstrual cups or tampons, how to deal with the hair sprouting all over your body—there is so much happening between the ages of nine to fourteen, that it’s often hard to cope with it all. Often parents either tiptoe around these changes, believing conversation around menstruation or breasts to be taboo, or they don’t have the appropriate vocabulary to discuss puberty with their kids. That is where Chopra’s book can help. What’s Up With Me, published by Red Panda, the children’s imprint of Westland Publications, is the kind of friend every adolescent and pre-teen needs. It offers sensible advice about periods, pimples, relationships, and more, without making puberty sound like a ‘problem’. Gynaecologist Mala Arora and psychologist Malvika Varma have chipped in to help Chopra with the appropriate information. In an email interview, the actor-director-producer, and now author, dwells on what inspired her to write this book.

If you could talk about how personal experiences of motherhood have informed this book?

It has been a mixed bag of experiences and perspectives that have informed this book. As a parent, I had started wondering how to tackle the teenage years, as my daughter, Tara, is growing up so fast. She is 8, going on 18. And these are the most crucial formative years. This is also the time that kids slowly become aware of the gender divide and differences. Tara's questions about her friends, life and boys have changed in the past year. My husband and I have a very open, friendly style of parenting—everything is discussed openly in our household. Breasts are called breasts, penis is a penis—we don't believe in hiding the facts. But yes, there have been moments when we ask ourselves how to address a certain topic, or if there is a guide to these pre-teen years. I also realised through conversations with Tara and her friends, and with teachers/parents at her school how curious girls this age are about the upcoming changes in their lives. Many of them are eager to look grown up and want to try bras and outfits meant for much older women because of what they see on television and social media.

Also read: What growing up in the pandemic has been like

Usually in books targeted at children and young adults, one finds the tone to be one of "talking down or at" someone. In this one, it feels like a close friend is guiding you through issues that are uppermost on the mind, without being preachy or judgmental. If you could elaborate on this approach...

The original idea of this book was a letter from a mother to her young daughter, explaining the process of menstruation and puberty. Somewhere along the way, the idea of the letter transformed into this more detailed book, and that's where the conversational tone first came from. But as I wrote, I realised that there was no other way to write this book—today's kids are exposed to so much information from so many sources, you can't get away with trying to be coy or having veiled conversations. My daughter and her peers, and even my friend's kids or nieces and nephews are quick to call us adults out. They question everything or better yet they Google everything. Keeping this, and my own parenting style in mind, it became very clear early on in the writing process that this book has to speak directly to its target audience. Keep it light, fun and friendly while staying true to the science behind it all.

Moreover this non-preachy, non-judgemental approach is imperative so that we can do away with the taboos surrounding menstruation in India. There is no need to shy away from this topic, it is the most natural part of human evolution— there would be no human life without it, so why do we keep running in circles and whispering about it?

Also read: Parenting is all about making connections

Some of the topics that you have touched upon are very complex, be it navigating social media, parents' separation, irregular periods, and more. What is the kind of research that you undertook and advice that you received that made these easier to put across to the reader

Today's kids know everything and they discuss topics we wouldn't even imagine having thought about at age 8 or similar. Social pressures, norms and the way we socialise has changed thanks to globalisation and social media—and thus these young girls are navigating a torrent of external stimuli and internal confusion on how to deal with things. In my own conversations at home with Tara, I came to realise that we are slowly having conversations about boys, about body types or why someone in her class has a single parent, and such. So while the initial ideas and flow of the book was based on anecdotal research, as we dove into each topic we called upon the expertise of doctors like leading gynaecologist Mala Arora and psychologist Malvika Verma. I also looked into research and initiatives being undertaken by nonprofits and companies like P&G, Carmesi, for analytical data and facts and figures.

Also read: What do pandemic restrictions mean for teens' social life?

Often parents don't have the right kind of information, or a suitable way of communicating these critical details. Was this one of the factors that led you to write the book?

Many women my age or even younger do not have the right information (even today), or the right support system to help them with this phase of their lives. When I was growing up, there wasn’t that much information (or maybe I didn’t have access to it?) on puberty and menstruation. While my mother and older cousins did give me an idea to some extent, no one else spoke about it that much. My parents being educators, ours was an open, straight-talking household, but this was a topic that didn’t really come up. In retrospect, I think I gathered a lot of misinformation owing to the mixed sources. It is such a confusing time - you keep wondering about your emotions, feeling attracted to boys or girls, you are resentful of authority.

For this reason, once I began writing, I was clear that the book needs to be a friendly guide—a helping hand to young pre-teen girls and their parents. It is essential for parents to get involved, especially fathers, and help rid the taboos around periods in our country. Ask your dad to buy you your pads, tampons, menstrual cups, why be shy about it?

Also read: How can parents keep young people safe online during the pandemic?

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