In this final installment of Ten Things Girls Need Most, parenting expert and psychologist Steve Biddulph sums about what a girl needs and talks about the importance of seeing themselves as part of the bigger picture.
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.
Anxiety, unhappy sex and relationships, eating disorders, and self harm are the most common.
It’s important to know that even then, at any age, 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, because that is the hardest age to be, and that is the time when things will come to a head.
But the causes will go back sometimes to babyhood, toddlerhood or primary school.
So there is plenty we can do at all of these ages. In my research for Ten Things Girls Need Most, I searched for the evidence-based 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 to some societal expectation which puts her under pressure.
A place where bullying is dealt with swiftly and where difference in all its forms is 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 makes her want to get up in the morning.
With help from the adults to realise that and carry it out.
Creativity, sport, or cause - whatever she really 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.
But for others, (and in fact, for 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 that they never need to 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.
And let’s also acknowledge that nobody ever has all of the Ten Things. But the wonder of that it that it can be a life-long search and a way to enrich your daily life and grow a little every day.
The beauty of it is that we can pinpoint what might be missing – and then we can go in search of that.
Steve Biddulph is a retired psychologist and author of the books Raising Boys, Raising Girls, New Manhood, and Ten Things Girls Need Most.