Tips for raising girls in today's world
When your new baby girl is born it’s hard to imagine them one day being a young woman, but having this end goal in sight – the type of person you want your daughter to become – can help guide the way you parent them in their early years. What kind of character and attributes do you want her to possess as she matures? How do you want her to feel about herself? To treat others?
The world our girls are growing up in is very different from the world we knew during our childhoods. How can we prepare them and make them as ready as possible to face life at this time?
Mental health, especially among girls, is a huge topic at the moment as there has been a sharp decline in recent times. Looking at ways to help young girls to feel loved and supported is more crucial than ever. In his book, Raising Girls In The Twenty First Century, Steve Biddulph discusses many of the issues that girls face these days, and how we can help them to thrive.
Biddulph proposes that while all girls are unique, there is a similar journey they must follow in order to grow up well. When girls’ needs are met at each of these stages, they are set up for success. Girls are different to boys in terms of the ages and stages they go through. Here are Biddulph’s five stages of girlhood:
1. Security – Am I safe and loved? (Birth-2 years)
This is the stage where babies, who are completely dependent, need to be nurtured, loved and reassured that when they need us, we are there for them. It’s about much more than making sure that not just their physical needs are met, but also their emotional needs are being responded to.
2. Exploring – Is the world a fun and interesting place? (2-5 years)
Girls start to develop confidence during this stage as they explore the world around them from the safety of their parents/caregivers. The stronger their attachment to their parents, the more confident, adventurous, and resilient they will become.
3. People skills – Can I get along with others? (5-10 years)
At this stage your daughter will be figuring out that she is not the centre of the universe, and that by sharing, co-operating and giving she can have positive and enjoyable interactions with others. She is also better able to understand other people's feelings and have empathy. She will learn to be kind, honest, compassionate and sensitive by being treated that way herself.
4. Finding her soul – Can I discover my deep down self and what makes me truly happy? (10-14 years)
As she approaches puberty she will start to get a much greater sense of being her own person. During these years there is a lot of inner work that takes place as she discovers who she really is, what she believes, stands for and cares about. This is also a time when she discovers what her passions are, many times there will be one particular one that stands out and can be defining for her. If she successfully gains her identity in a healthy way during this time she will be much less likely to seek approval from others or give in to peer pressure.
5. Stepping into adulthood – Can I take responsibility for my own life? (14-18 years)
These years are the pre-adult years where your daughter will learn many practical skills such as how to drive, how to budget, how to manage her health, her time, and her safety. Having a rite of passage or a marker that signifies leaving childhood behind and entering adulthood is important. Sometimes this may even happen naturally, such as a difficult event where she has the opportunity, along with some support, to step up and take the wheel of her life.
Biddulph also suggests that girls having an ‘aunty’, as was common in previous generations, that they can share with and go to with difficult situations they may be facing can help girls in their growing up years. This is especially important during the teen years. In past times, this aunty was often an older, wiser woman who was interested and invested in them, who was there for advice and support, and would speak honestly to them. Girls will often share with aunties things they might not share with their mum, as they’re seen more as a friend, and a safe place. Is there someone who could take this role in your daughter’s life?
There’s no doubt that as mothers, we ultimately have the biggest influence in our daughters lives. We become our daughters' role models, and sometimes this can feel like a huge weight to carry – none of us are perfect! But realising the impact we have can help us to think carefully about the type of role model we want to be. How do we respond when we are angry? Are we involved mums or do we sit on the sidelines? Do we have fun with our kids or are we focussed on keeping our house clean?
While we live in a world that glorifies commodities, wealth, and busyness, what our girls need most from us is our time and our attention. Slowing down and being available may seem like such a simple thing, but it is crucial if we want to build connection with our daughters and see them flourish as they grow into the amazing women they were created to be.