Everyone has a story. They know someone – a friend’s middle child, their sister’s only daughter, their grandchild, their own daughter. Struggling, anxious, depressed, refusing to go to school, self-harming, bruised by the world. And, it seems, at younger and younger ages.
What feels like an epidemic is borne out by the statistics around mental health and young people. To pluck just a couple from the deep and dispiriting well of numbers: more than half of Australian girls between eight and nine years old are dissatisfied with their body, and a quarter of 14 and 15-year-olds have thoughts about self-harming.
Two new books about raising girls aim to equip parents with a mud map to negotiate pressures old and new. Some challenges are as old as the hills (dealing with bullies), others have been around for a while (social media and screentime), and others are fresh out of the box (pandemic anxiety).
And on Friday 19 February on Zoom, they’ll be the focus of Guardian Australia’s first book club of the year: raising girls in a challenging world.
For journalist Madonna King, 10 is the new 13. Her new book, Ten-ager: What Your Daughter Needs to Know About the Transition from Child to Teen, deals with the idea that the bubble of childhood is bursting at younger and younger ages. King says after she wrote Being 14 – a book about the particular challenges of being a 14-year-old girl – parents asked her to look younger.
“They wanted me to find out what was happening at 10, when their daughter was showing a touch of attitude along with a new social conscience, a worldliness, without the analytical skills to decipher real from fake. An age where some of their daughters were just beginning to wriggle out of hugs and into the privacy of their own rooms. An age where they would do anything to fit in.”
She interviewed more than 500 girls and hundreds of mothers, fathers and educators in an effort to encapsulate what 10-year-old girls would have their parents know, what parents’ main concerns are, and what the experts say about getting girls through this transition.
Authors Kasey Edwards and her partner Dr Christopher Scanlon say that getting girls through the obstacle course of adolescence requires self-esteem. When you get that sorted, they maintain, everything else follows.
Their new book, Raising Girls who Like Themselves (in a World that Tells them They’re Flawed), explores what they see as the seven traits that will arm girls and get them through.
At Guardian Australia’s Book Club on Friday, hosted by Australia at Home, Edwards and King will be discussing all these issues and asking urgent questions about the pressures on girls today. How can we make them feel better about their bodies? What is the best way to deal with bullies? Frenemies? The urge to self-harm?
Pre-register to join us at 1pm on Zoom on Friday, and we’ll talk about the bigger questions that parents ask too: how do parents tread the line between giving unconditional support and engendering independence? How can they reduce the pressures on their daughters while also teaching them how to cope? And how much of the way parents think about these issues is coloured by nostalgia for their own irretrievable childhoods?