We know a lot about girls and how to make them strong and free, and it’s never been more needed than today.
While most girls - at least three out of every five - turn out just fine, another one in five will have serious teenage issues, and her family will need to galvanize, make changes, or get help, so that she will be okay.
But one in five girls today, according to mental health researchers worldwide, will have problems that carry into adult life. It’s important to know our lives can heal and repair. But as any parent knows, if heartache can be avoided, then that’s what we would choose.
If a girl is going to struggle with her life, you will know it by 14 – the hardest age to be, and things come to a head. But the causes will go back sometimes to babyhood, toddler-hood or primary school. There is plenty we can do at these ages.
In my research for Ten Things Girls Need Most, I found practical things mums and dads could do.
A secure and loving start from parents who are cared for and supported so she can relax in their arms.
An exploring toddlerhood, where she is praised and encouraged to be physical, noisy, wild and free - not a dressed up nice girl just wanting to please.
A school time where she is helped to learn to get along with people, but not just “fit in” by conforming.
Where bullying is dealt with and difference celebrated.
A puberty time that is gradual so she does not have to grow up too fast.
It is also a time where she has the help of aunties and other older women, to teach her, challenge her, ask her the big questions of life - what do you stand for, what matters to you most?
And interests - a passion or spark that she makes her want to get up in the morning.
With help from the adults to realize that and carry it out.
Creativity, sport, or cause: whatever she loves to do.
We’ve learned that girls need dads, or dad figures in their lives.
Someone to whom she knows she is unique and special, because he shows that every day.
Every woman reading this knows how fathers can either wound or bless your life, and how long the effects of that last.
The final of the ten things girls need is a hard one to put in words: It’s spirituality. For some it might be a faith tradition, ready made and well developed to support their children. For others, (in fact, all teenagers who must step outside their parents world to grow) it means a chance to discover, in the natural world, in reading, in poetry or art, or from the lives of others, that they belong.
That they are part of the whole, and need never feel lonely. On a beach one day, or a mountain top, or under a starry sky, your daughter may feel that sense, and be set free by it.
Nobody ever has all the Ten Things, it’s a life long search. But we can pinpoint what might be missing, and go in search.
Retired psychologist Steve Biddulph is author of Raising Boys, New Manhood, and Ten Things Girls Need Most.
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