Book reviews: Raising Girls

Raising Girls by Steve Biddulph (PA picture)
Raising Girls by Steve Biddulph (PA picture)

Having a 13-year-old daughter who prefers shopping to sport, spends too much time in front of the mirror and would rather read a celebrity magazine than a Harry Potter novel, I could hardly wait to hear some sound parenting advice from renowned child psychologist Steve Biddulph.

Some 15 years ago, Biddulph captured the mood of parents worldwide with his softly softly, common sense approach to bringing up boys, detailed in his bestselling book Raising Boys.

He was the voice of reason, penning ideas and solutions that everyone else had been thinking - that fathers have to be good role models but they have to also be present, that boys want your time, not your money.

Today, he is addressing the various problems of the fairer sex in his latest book, Raising Girls.

Listening to my plight, the softly-spoken British-born author, who now lives in Tasmania, advises: “I wouldn’t treat shopping as a mother-daughter recreation or talk about weight in the house or buy fashion magazines. Don’t show an interest in it.”

The main problem with today’s girls is that they are simply growing up too quickly, he reflects.

“The problem with girlhood in 2013 is that we’ve lost four years of childhood. What you and I were learning at 18 they now confront at 14. What we did at 14 they did at 10. But you can’t navigate sexuality at 14. Our culture has robbed girls of four years.

“About one in five girls has a serious psychological disorder some time during her growing up,” he continues. “It could be anxiety and depression, binge drinking, risky sex and eating disorders. It’s an alarming crisis.”

My own alarm bells ring when he starts talking about daughters having under-age sex. “Statistics show that when a girl is 14, about one in five of her friends will start having sex with boys.

“The other four won’t do that. They might have sex at around 16 with a boy they like.

“There’s this divide. From research, it’s the girls whose mums discuss things with them that fall into the second category [and have sex later].

“It’s about gentle talking, not finger-wagging. That way, your daughter may get into more scrapes than you’d like her to, but far less than the girls who haven’t a clue and are being allowed to do their own thing.

“You have to be involved and sometimes you have to be unpopular.”

The book covers all sorts of issues which affect girls, including their premature sexualisation, the dangers of too much TV, social media, not enough sleep, alcohol and drugs, weight and food issues.

His advice smacks of common sense - talk to your daughters gently about their problems, limit screen time, encourage family activities and conversation, ensure they get enough sleep and make them feel secure enough to be happy with the way they are on the inside.