Where Has My Little Girl Gone? Questioning the Way We Bring Up Girls.

My eldest daughter has just turned 7 .  She will soon be going to Junior school and moving away from Early Education, my area of expertise.  I am not overly worried about her growing up too soon but  I am sure that the Junior school years will throw up new challenges.  So when the offer to review a new book ‘Where Has My Little Girl Gone?’ by Tanith Carey came my way, I thought it might be interesting to read about the challenges that might be faced along the way for all 3 of my girls.

The book ties in with a recent ‘mumsnet’ campaign ‘Let Girls Be Girls’ which campaigns to stop the sexualisation of young girls.

The book looks at the aspects of modern life that are fast-tracking our daughters through childhood. However, it is much more than a simple account of the sexualisation of young girls. It encourages parents to question the influence we have over girls growing up in this generation.  It discusses influences including body image, mobile phones and the internet.

 There are insights into the most extreme examples such as parents paying for their daughters to have plastic surgery and children pole dancing but is also full of practical tips on how to help young girls become rounded individuals, rather than focusing purely on beauty. The section on body image certainly made me question the messages I give to my daughters.  I am fortunate that I am naturally slim but I have never been completely satisfied with my body.   Though I don’t diet and try not to talk about losing weight I am sure my negative body image must have some effect on my girls.  I have hoped to have breast enlargements once my child-bearing days are over.   I hadn’t considered before now that this might make my girls view appearance as the most important factor in life, or see surgery as a quick fix.  Though I am not having second thoughts, it has made me realise that I need to approach the issue sensitively with my daughters.

 There is a particularly good section about boosting self-esteem.  It gives some lovely examples of things you can do to help girls feel unique, from simply asking their advice to building a scrap book of their artwork and writing, from the very first scribbles and sharing it together over the years.  I like the idea of this one and it’s something I can imagine doing with all of my girls.

 There is also some very practical advice on how to praise daughters and some lovely tips on how to help your daughter to understand about friendships that fall out or people being unkind.

 Another message that hit home for me was about spending quality time with your daughters, taking them for coffee and having  proper conversation. I think this was something I did a lot when my eldest was an only child but we don’t spend much time together alone anymore and I can already see her retreating into a book, game console or tv programme. The book talks about showing that you are interested in what they have to say and giving them your full attention.  I’m sure we have all glazed over when they talk about some television programme that we know nothing about, and how many times do we not really listen or give eye contact because we are too busy doing something else?

Spending time with your daughters, helping them to question things is a key message in the book. It doesn’t suggest banning commercial television, magazines, pop music or internet but to watch things with them and discuss the issues that arise.  In our house we have always been against commercial television and rarely watch adverts.  When we do we have frank discussions with our children about how advertising is often aimed at getting you to buy things you don’t really need, or promising you things that aren’t necessarily true. ‘Blah, blah, blah’ my daughter says every time an advert comes on.

There is also a lovely section for fathers and the importance of their involvement

‘a girl sees it as her mother’s natural role to care for her, she feels that time spent with her dad is his choice’

It talks about rebellious teenage girls testing their fathers to see if they would fight for them and encourages fathers to appreciate their daughters achievements instead of pushing them immediately to try the next thing.

I think that we are fortunate to have not seen too much evidence of our daughter growing up too soon.  She likes pop music and pretty clothes and sometimes wears make up, she is influenced by her older friends and occasionally speaks in an annoying american accent, but on the whole there is nothing that worries me. We may not shield the younger ones quite so well as they try to emulate their older sister. I’m sure that this book will give me many valuable tips for the things that life may throw at us as the girls grow up.  It has certainly made me think about the relationship I have with them and how I would like that to be in the future.

For anyone bringing up girls this is a really valuable read and it certainly made me stop and think about the quality of my relationships with my girls. Since reading the book I have reflected upon some of the messages I give to my girls.  Whilst my girls were watching a Disney Princess DVD, I considered that I may need to encourage my daughters to question the notion that finding your Prince Charming is the most important thing in life.  It has also made me think about the messages I give to them about the role of a mother.  I would like my daughters to grow up feeling that they can achieve anything and they do not have to give up a part of themselves to become a good mother.  Being a stay at home mum for a few years I feel that I may have reinforced the stereotype that it is a mum’s job to look after the children and house and that dad’s are the successful ones.  I hope that I can give my girls something to look up to so that they can see that women can be successful too.

This is a very practical and thought-provoking book – a worthwhile read for any parent of girls.

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