21st Century Girls Review
21st Century Girls by Sue Palmer
Reviewed by Claire Paye for What To Do With The Kids
According to the sub-title, this book is about ‘how female minds develop, how to raise bright, balanced girls and why today’s world needs them more than ever’. If there was a reading list for parents of girls, this book should be on it. In 21st Century Girls Sue Palmer examines both what makes girls tick and what cultural pressures are doing to them.
Sue has written a number of books on childhood, including Toxic Childhood and 21st Century Boys. In each of them she highlights the importance of time spent with children as the key antidote to the pressures of today’s world. She admits that she found it much harder to write 21st Century Girls than 21st Century Boys because girls are so complicated. As a mother of a girl and a boy, I agree wholeheartedly. According to Sue, the reason that girls are under such pressure at the moment is that they are very good at discerning the huge amount that is expected of them and striving to deliver that in a desire to please and be liked. I found one story particularly interesting. It centred on a group of high achieving parents whose daughters were all obviously doing very well at school, in sport, in their extra-curricular activities and so on. However, as the conversation progressed, it became apparent that all these girls were showing worrying symptoms of anorexia. They were so used to being in control of the appearance they offered the world that they wanted to conform to the image of the perfect body as well.
This book covers the developmental milestones of baby girls through to young adults, always with an eye to how today’s pressures affect them. One particular pressure at the moment is that so many mothers have to work and therefore put their daughters into nursery, but ‘for girls to have the best possible chance of a ‘good childhood’ and a fulfilling happy life they need [their mother’s] constant, consistent, one-on-one personal care during the first two years at least’.
Each of the chapters in the second section of the book ends with a timeline to help parents focus on what should be happening in their daughters’ lives at each stage of their development, and how specifically they can help. The chapters cover topics including play (keep screens out of bedrooms), fashion and friendships (including the problems of online ‘friendships’), confidence (how to resist the pressure to look and behave a certain way) and sex (too much sexualisation, too soon).
This book is valuable for all mothers. It highlights how important a mother is to her daughter and explains why this is and how we can help our daughters develop into happy individuals. Sue identifies the challenges facing today’s girls, suggests solutions and offers much helpful advice to girls’ mothers, such as not passing on negative body image issues. For fathers, this book will help them understand their daughters a bit better, although it does underline just how complicated girls are, which they probably knew already if they knew their daughters’ mothers well!
You can buy 21st Century Girls on Amazon