Hey dads, are you positive role models for your daughters?

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.


“For 9 out of 10 girls, it is going to be the opposite sex that they are interested in as they grow up and dad is their first opposite-sex example,” he said.

“So a dad who treats a daughter as intelligent and interesting, when he takes her out on Saturday morning to buy a hot glue gun, he doesn’t just go home straightaway, they stop off and have a hot chocolate and have a talk.

“That girl experiences that she is interesting and worthwhile and it sets the bar for how she will expect men to treat her and boys to treat her.”

Be better than before

It is hard to pinpoint exact number of stay-at-home dads in Australia, but Australian Bureau of Statistics data compiled between 2005 and 2013 suggests numbers are on the rise.

University of Newcastle Associate Professor Richard Fletcher leads the Fathers and Families Research Program and has spent years studying and teaching about the roles of fathers.

He found that while many thought their own dads were good parents, most wanted to do a better job themselves.

Yet he said there needed to be a cultural shift around the way fathers were viewed.

“There’s still a very strong idea in the community and among professionals about parental roles,” he told the University of Newcastle website.

“Many think that engaging mothers as the primary caregiver is sufficient, and fathers are just an optional extra.

“Fathers are invisible in many places, and that is endemic. Not because people dislike fathers, but because the system is set up to be focused on mothers.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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