Raising Girls

by Steve Biddulph

Reviewed by     Karen Fontaine

Steve Biddulph unleashed Raising Boys in 1998, and, in the 15 years since, it has grown up to become the world’s top-selling book on boys. Containing straightforward messages about boys needing to be strongly loved and firmly taught how to develop into strong men, it is a seminal text that is widely revered as somewhat of a bible among parents of sons.

Today, there are more than three million no-doubt dog-eared copies of Raising Boys being handed around between mums, dads and grandparents with reverence for its straight-shooting author and his globally relevant messages (which have been translated into no fewer than 30 languages).

In March of this year, Biddulph published Raising Girls, the culmination of a decade’s worth of research. The reason? Now, Biddulph warns, it’s not boys but girls who are in trouble, in a world that is forcing them to grow up too fast.

WHO

Born in Britain, Biddulph is a Tasmania-based family psychologist with 25 years of experience. He is the father of a grown son and daughter, and readily admits that when the obstetrician declared his second-born a girl, he “was incredibly happy – I hadn’t realised how much I wanted a daughter”. With his trademark warmth and insightfulness, Biddulph says he is here to coach parents in how they can help turn their baby girl into a woman who is wise, warm and strong.

WHAT (it’s all about)

As Biddulph writes, “the choices we make in the way we raise our daughters can ensure they keep their spirits alive and their hearts warm; it can help them to believe in themselves, even when the world sends them different messages”. He breaks down girlhood into five stages:

  1. Security – ‘Am I safe and loved?’ (birth – two years);
  2. Exploring – ‘Is the world a fun and interesting place?’ (two-five years);
  3. People skills – ‘Can I get along with others?’ (five-10 years);
  4. Finding her soul – ‘Can I discover my deep-down self and what makes me truly happy?’ (10-14 years); and
  5. ‘Preparing for adulthood – ‘Can I take responsibility for my own life?’ (14-18 years).

 

The key point being that as a girl completes each stage, she arrives at a profound and life-altering decision about her life. Biddulph’s message is this: as parents, what matters is that you don’t give up.

“Loving your daughter and keeping on trying are what will get you through,” he says on page 7. “And if your daughter is already past some of the stages, and you feel that she didn’t really get the message, don’t despair. Those decisions can often be re-made later.”

WHY (you should read it)

Biddulph has identified a “sudden and marked plunge in girls' mental health" over the past five years, during which the growth of social media has encouraged anxiety and narcissism, childhood exposure to pornography has increased, and corporations have made millions from the ‘pinkification’ of girlhood”. “The world today does not seem to care about girls at it should, and sees them just as a way to make money,” he writes.

Identifying four key sources of harm to girls – sexualisation, body image, alcohol abuse and bullying – Biddulph paints a not-very-pretty picture of what life can be like for a girl adrift in today’s world.

Make no mistake, Raising Girls is an important book, and each of its 246 pages offers practical advice either straight from Biddulph himself or from experts he respects.

Via the clever use of ‘In a nutshell’ summaries at the end of each chapter, Biddulph reinforces his main messages: namely, that time, love and patience are what’s needed to build strength and connectedness through the five stages of girlhood.

It’s a book you can pick up, put down and revisit in a week or six months or three years. You can read just the chapter detailing the stage your own daughter is at, and come back to it when she’s entering the next stage.

One final word of advice: once you’re done (for now), resist leaving Raising Girls on a bookshelf. Loan it to as many parents of daughters as possible (just write your name in the inside cover, so it will come back!)

Raising Girls is truly the kind of book that instills in readers a quiet confidence that, if you heed its instructions, there’s an excellent chance that it really will do what it says on the cover…

WELL…

For an author who pulls as few punches as Biddulph, he’s bound to ruffle a few feathers. Biddulph is famously anti-daycare for the under threes, and this book doesn’t contain much in the way of advice for single parents (so, if you’re a single working mum of a toddler girl, that might put you off from the get-go). Biddulph only skims over on red-button topics such as pro-anorexia websites and sexting.

However, there is no denying – and indeed, only congratulating – his pro-feminist, anti-corporation messages. When an author writes: “Your daughter needs to know she is part of a bigger story; a fight that has been fought on her behalf, long before she was born, and that she needs to keep fighting”, it’s hard not to sit up and take notice.

WOW! (Here’s an excerpt of a particularly profound part of the book)

“The years from 10 to 14 are far more important than most people realise. They are not something to skip over – this is a time of intense preparation. We have to help girls stay in this place and not rush into premature attempts at being grown up, for which they are far from ready. If you take nothing else from this chapter, or even this whole book, please take this: girls from 10 to 14 need more, not less, or our time, interest and availability. This is when we teach, explain, coach, inquire and involve her in more demanding activity, preparing her for the amazing woman she can become. But we don’t push her out there alone yet, or let the world grab her with its pressures to conform, compete, be sexual or please boys in order to feel okay. She is preparing for womanhood, but that preparation is a stage all of its own. Between 10 and 14, a girl’s job is to get her roots down deep into who she is. There are many ways to do this. The first, and easiest, is called ‘spark’. Dr Peter Benson, one of the world’s leading experts on adolescence, discovered something which seems so simple, but is a complete game-changer. He discovered that children and young teenagers almost always have something inside them – an interest, enthusiasm, talent or concern – which, if it is supported, gives them incredible joy, motivation and direction. That thing is their spark….”

Here's an excerpt of a particularly profound part of the book

“The years from 10 to 14 are far more important than most people realise.

They are not something to skip over – this is a time of intense preparation. We have to help girls stay in this place and not rush into premature attempts at being grown up, for which they are far from ready. If you take nothing else from this chapter, or even this whole book, please take this: girls from 10 to 14 need more, not less, or our time, interest and availability. This is when we teach, explain, coach, inquire and involve her in more demanding activity, preparing her for the amazing woman she can become. But we don’t push her out there alone yet, or let the world grab her with its pressures to conform,

compete, be sexual or please boys in order to feel okay. She is preparing for womanhood, but that preparation is a stage all of its own. Between 10 and 14, a girl’s job is to get her roots down deep into who she is. There are many ways to do this. The first, and easiest, is called ‘spark’. Dr Peter Benson, one of the world’s leading experts on adolescence, discovered something which seems so simple, but is a complete game-changer. He discovered that children and young teenagers almost always have something inside them – an interest, enthusiasm, talent or concern – which, if it is supported, gives them incredible joy, motivation and direction. That thing is their spark….”



Comments

Great!
Apr 09, 2014