OVER a decade ago Steve Biddulph helped parents to better understand their sons. His book, Raising Boys, was a worldwide best seller capturing the mood of parents worldwide with his softly softly, common sense approach to bringing up boys.
He was the voice of reason, penning ideas and solutions that everyone else had been thinking – that fathers have to be good role models but they have to also be present, that boys want your time, not your money.
Today, the author has turned his attention to the fairer sex. The main problem with today’s girls is that they are simply growing up too quickly, he claims.
“The problem with girlhood in 2013 is that we’ve lost four years of childhood,” says Steve. “What you and I were learning at 18 they now confront at 14. What we did at 14 they did at 10. But you can’t navigate sexuality at 14.
“About one in five girls has a serious psychological disorder some time during her growing up,” he continues. “It could be anxiety and depression, binge drinking, risky sex and eating disorders. It’s an alarming crisis.”
Claire Barber, of Alnwick, Northumberland, agrees with Biddulph’s theory that girls grow up too fast. As a single mum to Charlotte, 20, and Olivia,12, she has adopted an open door policy for her girls so whenever they need help or to talk over problems, she will always be there.
The 46-year-old says: “Girls do grow up quickly these days, it’s a lot different to when I was young. It is worrying. It’s when they start to become teenagers that it is extremely worrying. You can see them hit puberty and it all changes.
“One of the best things I have done that has really worked is to have an open door policy. I always say that everything can be solved except for death, that nothing will shock me, that they have to be truthful and that we can always sort out difficult situations together.”
The book covers all sorts of issues which affect girls, including their premature sexualisation, the dangers of too much TV, social media, not enough sleep, alcohol and drugs, weight and food issues.
The British-born author’s advice is common sense – talk to your daughters gently about their problems, limit screen time, encourage family activities and conversation, throw out fashion magazines, ensure they get enough sleep and make them feel secure enough to be happy with the way they are on the inside, not fretting about how they appear on the outside.
Most of all, it’s about spending time with them and raising their sense of being loved and feeling secure.
He says: “Statistics show that when a girl is 14, about one in five of her friends will start having sex with boys. The other four won’t do that. They might have sex at around 16 with a boy they like.
“There’s this divide. From research, it’s the girls whose mums discuss things with them that fall into the second category [and have sex later].
“It’s about gentle talking, not finger-wagging. That way, your daughter may get into more scrapes than you’d like her to, but far less than the girls who haven’t a clue and are being allowed to do their own thing.
“You have to be involved and sometimes you have to be unpopular.”
Many of the problems come down to what Biddulph calls the ‘toxic flood’ of cues coming from the media – TV, movies, music videos and magazines.
He says: “We adults use TV for entertainment, but our kids use it for quite a different purpose: to find out what is normal behaviour.”
Images sold by marketeers to make girls feel insecure about their looks, clothes, weight and skin make those very girls want to buy the product solutions the companies are selling, he says.
He believes that the problems start much earlier than teenagehood.
“You can make girls strong if you start at the beginning and you know where you are going,” Biddulph says.
“In recent years, parents haven’t had a plan. In the old days people had character goals for bringing up their young.
“It really mattered that your kids were good-hearted, fair and generous and kind and strong in what they stood for.
“People worked on those personal traits. But in our consumer society, we feed them and clothe them and get them off to school. The deep down part of parenting has become lost. It’s needed in ways it has never been before..”
Raising Girls by Steve Biddulph is published by HarperCollins, priced £12.99.
:: HERE, two mothers talk about the trials and tribulations of raising both sexes.
MOTHER-of-two Claire Barber has raised her girls single-handedly.
“I was widowed by my first husband and then I went on to have another daughter,” she explains.
“I have brought them up on my own. I think it would be crazy to say that not having a man around has not affected them completely, but they both have qualities that I have. They are very strong, resilient and both of them are extremely mature and grown-up.
“They have had other male role models. I have two brothers so they have had quite a lot of influence from them, and their grandmother has also been a fantastic support.”
Claire set up her own business, Claire Barber PR & Media, so she could support her family and be able to spend more time with the girls – Olivia, 12, who attends Dukes Middle School in Alnwick, and Charlotte, 20, who lives at home and runs her own party and wedding supply business.
“If I worked for someone else I would spend less time with the children,” says Claire. “I build my diary around them.”
Claire doesn’t consider raising two girls on her own a challenge: “It has been the greatest pleasure of my life.
“If I had to say something was a challenge it would be the early teenage years when the hormones kick in and they want to be adults. I have coped with it by having an ‘open door policy’.
“I make up scenarios to make it easy for them to talk to me about situations and I make time for them,” she says.
“I bake with them. It’s amazing what comes out when you are mixing and preparing cakes. Another way of breaking down barriers is playing board games with them. They can open up more when they are relaxed.
“I always make them sit at the table for dinner and I always try to give them a healthy meal. I have tried to be a mother and a father to them. Charlotte has always been a fantastic support and Olivia can talk to her too.
“The open door policy works for me. They can talk to me and I know where they are. I would rather they were doing things under my roof where I can keep an eye on them rather than they go out and I don’t know what they are doing. If you try and stop them doing something then they will only do it behind your back.
“When Charlotte was 14 all her friends were saying they were staying at each other’s houses but really they were going to a beach party at Bamburgh. I was the only mum who knew the truth because Charlotte told me. I ended up going to pick them up at 2am to get them home safely.”
Claire does not agree with Biddulph’s views that too much social media can be harmful and his advice that parents should throw out any fashion magazines in the house.
“That’s ridiculous,”, she says. “All girls have fashion and weight issues, but throwing out fashion magazines won’t solve it. It’s my job to read magazines and newspapers so they are always around and I use social media a lot for work. I encourage the girls to embrace it.”
Sex has been one of the most difficult subject areas to discuss.
“Any parent finds it extremely stressful,”, she says. “It’s hard, but I have tried to make it so they can talk to me about anything.”
RUNNING a retail business and bringing up two young boys, Frances Chalmers is constantly busy. But she and her husband make sure they have plenty of time for Christopher, five, and Alexander, seven.
The 41-year-old, who owns Exclusive Footwear in Newcastle and York, adores her children.
She says: “The best thing about raising boys is that they are so loving. They say to me ‘You’re so beautiful, mummy’.
“There is something so gorgeous about them. There is no spitefulness about them, no nastiness or bitchiness, which can happen with girls.”
Frances and husband Raymond, 41, who also runs his own telecoms company, have different roles when it comes to raising their boys.
“We are polar opposites,” says the fashion boss. “I am a complete pushover – I want to give them everything. But Raymond knows how important it is to give the boys discipline and he is really strict.
“It’s really important to have that balance. The male influence and guidance is so important to keep them in check so that they understand what is right and wrong.”
The couple also have different roles when it comes to practical matters.
“I do bath-time and story-time and all the nice, fluffy mummy stuff whereas Raymond does all the sport with them,” she says. “He is heavily into the sport they do and thinks it is really important for them.
“Raymond wants them to have a big sporting influence in their lives. He makes a lot of sacrifice for them to be able to do that.”
Frances agrees with the Raising Boys author that social media and technology such as PlayStations can have a detrimental effect on children.
She says: “We do have a lot of this technology but we don’t allow the boys free access to it. We monitor how much time they spend on it.
As the boys get older, the couple hope they will continue with their sporting pursuits.
“I’m hoping they will want to go skiing with their dad and go fishing,” says Frances. “I think I am going to have to adopt a new role and become one of the boys so I can spend more time with them!”
Frances runs www.exclusivefootwear.com