Exclusive interview: Best-selling author Steve Biddulph on Raising Girls

Fifteen years ago, psychologist Steve Biddulph wrote a worldwide bestselling book about the difficulties of bringing up boys. But today he believes it is girls 'who are in trouble' because they live in a world 'that seems bent on poisoning their confidence and trashing their lives'.

Here he talks to our resident house dad about the challenges parents face when Raising Girls.


If you could only give five tips to parents about raising daughters, what would they be?

1. "If at all possible, give her a very secure start. When she's a baby, really calm down your family life so mum and baby can be as nurtured and cocooned as they can, and there are not a lot of stresses. Slow your life down. This sets her emotional thermostat to be able to feel really loved and secure - because she reads your emotions and makes them her own.

"Love is the first lesson she learns. And hurry is the enemy of love."


2. "Have fun! Especially in the toddler and pre-school years, dress her in rough and ready clothes and muck about in the garden, the park and playground, make messes and do stuff, be enthusiastic.

"Girls can and should feel the world is a big adventure and a place for them."

3. "Show her how friendliness works. By being and having good friends, she can see how to do friendship. Even if you are shy and quiet, you can still act and speak kindly to others.

"Through the primary school years, help her to navigate the sometimes painful world of friends by discussing with you what to do, having another go, accepting that it all takes time to learn."

4. "Protect her from adultification too young.

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Don't get into fashion or weight and don't watch too much TV where she will learn girls are for decoration. They are not. They are people.

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Especially get yourself and aunties and soulful women into her life in the 10-14 age group - around interests or activities or just going for a coffee and a talk. This is the age when a girl finds her soul."

5. "A good dad is like gold. Girls need dads to learn confidence and self esteem, and that they deserve respect. Dads who spend time, talk, help her to pursue the interests she might have, really lift a girl up."


Are girls today facing different pressures from the ones their mothers faced?

"Today you can be bullied or made uptight even at home at night on Facebook! Girls are often made to feel they have to be sexy or skinny at seven or eight years of age. Boys see pornography and start to treat girls as just sex toys.

These are old problems made much more severe through technology. We have to put the brakes on these new things. That's why Raising Girls is there, to get everyone mobilised and supporting each other. Its hard just on your own."


What's the best way to give a girl confidence and self esteem?

"In the book we have a special section on 'spark' - the idea that girls usually discover a passion or interest that really makes them excited and happy to be alive. Finding her spark - animals, hobbies, activism, sport, creativity - takes her away from being obsessed with how she looks. It's natural to HAVE self belief, but the media/fashion/advertising world takes it away, makes you not like yourself."


Why do mothers and daughters fight?

"At around 14, it's natural for a girl to want to push off and be her own person. Its healthy and good. But if a mum is too intrusive and anxious around her girl, this can start much younger. That's why aunties are great because its someone else, not mum, that is a role model. The peer group are not great guides to life, they are often quite brainless. An auntie knows about boys, the world, and also asks those deep questions - like 'what is your life about?'"

Exclusive interview: Best-selling author Steve Biddulph on Raising Girls



Do you have any specific advice for how dads should relate to and raise their daughters during the turbulent teenage years?

"You are the model for the men she will involve in her life when she grows up.

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If you are distant, she will be attracted to distant men. If you are immature, likewise. If you are critical, grumpy or stressed, she will think that's what to look for in a man.

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So - GET IT TOGETHER. Be the man she will set her standards by."


What are the different challenges of raising girls compared to boys?

"A lot is the same. Love them, involve them, set clear boundaries, encourage their lives. But the risk factors are different - for boys its violence, accidents, and so on, for girls its alcohol, being sexually misused, self hatred and self harm or eating disorders. But they still overlap quite a lot. All are results of not feeling secure or connected enough."


How can we protect our daughters from being bullied, either at school or online?

"If we keep close to them and talk to them, and notice if something is not quite right, they are quiet or moody or withdrawn, always gently and patiently ask why. You need to know if they are being bullied. In the book we talk about a girl who committed suicide, she lived on Facebook and her parents had no idea she was being put down and bullied for almost a year."


How can we help our daughters feel comfortable with their bodies?

"It starts with us. We have to be comfortable. Don't even OWN scales. Don't always talk weight and diet. Do enjoy being physical, muck about actively as a family. Don't have TV on when they are young and its always diet ads and pretty pretty stuff all day long. They can get programmed by that.

"My daughter when she was three, suddenly said, after seeing a dieting ad on TV: "That's nice, that lady's husband will love her now she's thin!". We were horrified! It really changed our TV habits as a family."

Steve Biddulph's Raising Girls is published by HarperCollins, £12.99


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