It all begins in your arms. You look down at your newborn baby daughter, and have such intense feelings.
Tenderness, love, hope, fierce protectiveness.
Girls’ horizons in life have soared so high as a result of a century of feminism, but today they seem to be getting squashed again.
I was a psychologist writing about boys for over 30 years, but today it is girls that I am most wanting to put at the centre, because their mental health has been plunging all across the world.
One in five girls today has diagnosed anxiety, one in twelve will have an eating disorder, every school is reporting rising levels of self harm.
We have to do more to make our daughters strong and free. It begins in babyhood.
Both boys and girls today are less secure, more prone to stress, and we think this begins with there being too much hurry and rush in the early years.
We have to take better care of young parents, so they can really focus on their littlies.
A baby doesn’t care if they are born in a palace, or a tin hut, but they are acutely aware of the emotional tone of their family.
So it pays to step right out of the competitive rat race when you have children.
Don’t renovate your house, don’t get a FIFO job and if you possibly can then let your career coast to settle in for some beautiful time with your newborn.
It’s in those peaceful moments that they bond, you teach them to settle, and laugh, and sing and feel the world is a good place.
A child can only be as relaxed at their parents!
The following stages will soon arrive - the exploring time from two to five, when our daughters need encouragement to be in nature, have animals, climb trees, be messy and muddy.
The primary school years, when friendship skills are learned, often through making missteps, coming home, talking it over with mum or dad and going back into the fray.
This is the age when social media has to be really restricted - no smartphones yet, and no internet in bedrooms is the choice many parents are making, so that home really is a haven and the ugly or mean aspects of life are fenced out to allow strength and confidence to grow.
Then it’s the teen years. In my talks I often tell the story of a 14-year-old girl who has sex with a boy at a party. He is 17, and she is over the moon that he has paid her so much attention.
Then she discovers it was for a bet with his mates. She is devastated, it takes years to get over it, and only when her parents really increase their support and involvement is she able to regain her childhood and feel okay.
She wasn’t even able to tell them it had happened until a counsellor was called in because of her drinking problems. Not that I am trying to scare you! But girlhood takes knowledge and care.
It’s so different to when we were kids, and if we aren’t careful, they can be rushed into growing up far too fast.
They can be robbed of the peaceful dreamy time of childhood that is essential for healthy development. It is our job to protect this, because “when you grow slow, you grow strong”.
We’ll talk about how this is done in a series of articles based on my book Ten Things Girls Need Most each Monday here, covering girls at every age.
Steve Biddulph is a psychologist and author.