Making girls strong starts young

It all begins in your arms. You look down at your newborn baby daughter, and have such intense feelings. Tenderness, love, fierce protectiveness swirl inside you as you wonder how her life will unfold. 

Girls' horizons in life have soared so high as a result of a century of feminism, but today they seem to be getting squashed down again. I was a psychologist writing about boys for over 30 years, but today it’s girls who are at the centre, because their mental health has been plunging all across the world. One in five girls today has diagnosed anxiety, one in twelve will have an eating disorder, every school is reporting rising levels of self harm. We have to do more to make our daughters strong and free.  

It begins in babyhood. Both boys and girls today are less secure, more prone to stress, and we think this begins with there being too much hurry and rush in the early years. We have to take better care of young parents, so they can really focus on their littlies. Babies don’t care if they are born in a palace, or a tin hut, but they are acutely aware of the emotional tone of their family.

So it pays to step right out of the competitive rat race when you have children. Don’t renovate your house, don’t get a FIFO job; if you possibly can let your career coast, and settle in for some beautiful time with your newborn. It’s in those peaceful moments that they learn to settle, and laugh, and sing and feel the world is a good place.

Children can only be as relaxed at their parents! The following stages will soon arrive − the exploring time from two to five, when our daughters need encouragement to be in nature, have animals, climb trees, be messy and muddy. The primary school years are when friendship skills are learned, often through making mis-steps, coming home, talking it over with Mum or Dad and going back into the fray. This is the age when social media has to be really restricted − no smart phones yet, and no internet in bedrooms is the choice many parents are making, so that home really is a haven and the ugly or mean aspects of life are fenced out to allow strength and confidence to grow.

Then it’s the teen years! In my talks I often tell the story of a 14 year-old girl who has sex with a boy at a party. He is 17, and she is over the moon that he has paid her so much attention. Then she discovers it was for a bet with his mates. 

She is devastated, it takes years to get over it, and only when her parents really increase their support and involvement is she able to regain her childhood and feel ok.  She wasn’t even able to tell them it had happened until a counsellor was called in because of her drinking problems. Not that I am trying to scare you! But girlhood takes knowledge and care. It’s not like when we were kids. 

Steve Biddulph’s book 10 Things Girls Need Most is published by Finch, and you can join in on his website

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Steve Biddulph

Steve Biddulph is one of the world’s best known parent educators. A psychologist for 25 years, he is now retired but continues to write and teach.

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