Start early to help girls rise above challenges

It all begins in your arms. You look down at your newborn baby daughter, and have such intense feelings. Tenderness, love, hope, fierce protectiveness.  

Girls’ horizons in life have soared so high as a result of a century of feminism, but today they seem to be getting squashed again.

I was a psychologist writing about boys for over 30 years. But today it is girls that I am most wanting to put at the centre, because their mental health has been plunging all across the world.  

One in five girls today has diagnosed anxiety and one in 12 will have an eating disorder. Across the country 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.  

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, when friendship skills are learned, often through making missteps, 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 smartphones yet, and no internet in bedrooms is the choice many parents are making.

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 okay.  

Not that I am trying to scare you!  But girlhood takes knowledge and care. It’s so different to when we were kids. And if we aren’t careful, they can be rushed into growing up far too fast. 

They can be robbed of the peaceful dreamy time of childhood that is essential for healthy development. 

It’s all based on my book Ten Things Girls Need Most and it covers the growth of girls at every age and how we, as parents, can ensure they get to be the best version of themselves.  

Steve Biddulph, psychologist and author