By Patrick Wood.
It’s time for dads to step up, family experts are stressing, as modern-day girls face unprecedented anxiety about the world around them.
While research suggests a growing number of Australian men are becoming stay-at-home parents, experts say they need to foster a different kind of relationship with their child than may have been the case in past generations.
From understanding social media pressures to influencing their kids’ future relationships, the role of the dad may have never been more important.
The girls aren’t alright
Parent educator and author Steve Biddulph was a psychologist for 25 years and said while we used to worry about how boys would turn out, now the focus must shift to young girls.
“Girls were flying along, but in the last decade the mental health of girls has plummeted because they have different risk factors to boys,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
“Girls are more sensitive to the social world around them on the whole and more aware of the pressures that come at them and so it is their anxiety that has become our greatest concern.”
Mr Biddulph’s research has been compiled in his new book, 10 Things Girls Need Most, and he has found these increased anxiety levels can be tracked in girls as young as eight.
He said this anxiety then drove other issues like eating disorders, self-harm, risky drinking and risky sexual behaviour.
Social media is a minefield
For Mr Biddulph, understanding social media stress is a good starting point.
“One of the things I think we have done wrongly is we have allowed childhood to be invaded,” he said.
“So television and the internet have come sort of blasting in on girls and so they are surrounded with this idea you have to look pretty and you have to look hot, you have to be popular.
“And for them, that’s not a happy thing. It is just something they feel they’ve got to do to survive.”
US physician Delaney Ruston is tackling this issue head-on and is in Australia to discuss a new documentary, Screenagers, which hopes to generate a different kind of conversation around social media and kids.
She found the discussion between parents and children about social media was often framed in a negative or combative way — including in her own home.
“I didn’t realise how negative I was talking about impact of screen time … I felt really this wasn’t good, these struggles weren’t good,” Dr Ruston said.
“As a physician I was learning about how excessive screen time can affect their ability to be focused when they need to be, their attention spans were actually decreasing, there were problems with social skills, and also [there was] risk of real clinical addiction.”
Make your daughter feel valued
Dads can also do more than just “wield a spear” and protect kids from social media, and may even have a unique opportunity to influence what type of man their daughter will end up dating, according to Mr Biddulph.