While most girls ‒ at least three out of every five ‒ turn out just fine, one in five will have serious teenage issues, and her family will need to galvanise, make changes, or get help, so that she will be all right. But, according to mental health researchers worldwide, one in five girls today 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 at any age, lives can heal and repair but if heartache can be avoided, that’s what each of us 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 things come to a head. Sometimes the causes will go back to babyhood, toddlerhood or primary school, so there is plenty we can do at each of these ages and stages. In my research for Ten Things Girls Need Most, I searched for the evidence-based practical things mums and dads could ensure.
- 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.
- A time when bullying is dealt with and difference celebrated.
- A time of puberty that is gradual so she does not have to grow up too fast and 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?
- Interests ‒ a passion or spark that makes her want to get up in the morning ‒ as well as help from the adults to light that spark and keep it burning. It may be creativity, sport, or cause ‒ whatever she really loves to do. We’ve learned that girls need dads, or dad figures in their lives. A girl needs 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 last of the ten things girls need is not so easy to put into words. It’s spirituality. For some this might be a faith tradition, owned by parents 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 need never feel lonely. On a beach one day, or upon a mountain top, or under a starry sky, your daughter may feel that sense, and be set free by it.
Nobody ever has all the Ten Things, it’s a life- long search. As parents, our role is to pinpoint what might be missing, and go searching for it.