Where has my little girl gone?

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As you know I have been interviewed many times on the TV and radio about the early sexualisation of girls and have written  about what I think about  padded bras for seven-year-olds, dolls dressed in high heels, and pole dancing kits for kids as I am the Mum to the very wonderful Molly – my 17 year old daughter.

Here are just a few of my articles around this very important subject

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From every angle our daughters are being bombarded by messages about looks and sexuality they are too young to understand. Even primary school girls feel pressured to conform to a thin, sexy ideal, leading to self-destructive behaviour, ranging from eating disorders and self-harm to anxiety and low self-esteem. But while girls are fast-tracked through childhood, parents are being drowned out by the internet, retailers, the media, and peer pressure.

And even though a furious debate is raging about why it’s happening and who’s to blame, so far there has been no practical help for parents on how to fight back against the Lolita Effect.

Now parenting author Tanith Carey, herself the mother of two young girls, has written the first hands-on guide for parents which will show you how to: Screen out damaging messages about body image and sex from the internet and media

I agree with Tanith that we must build our daughter’s self-esteem so she is strong enough to deal with the pressure to behave older than her years

Say the right things at the right time so she is inoculated against the worst influences of the X-rated society.

Tanith’s book is packed full of insights, experts tips and real experiences, “Where Has My Little Girl Gone?” is an essential and timely guide to safeguarding your daughter’s childhood so she can grow into the healthy, confident woman she deserves to be.

I am delighted to introduce you to Tanith’s blog post today.

“It’s a frightening thought that even before our daughters are old enough to read, many of them don’t like what they see in the mirror.

It’s heartbreaking that half of three tosix-year-old girls say they worry about being fat, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychology.

As they grow up, they learn to hate their reflections even more. By their seventh birthdays, seven out of ten want to be thin. By nine, nearly half have been on a diet.

At a time when they should be learning and playing,our girls are already getting trapped in a maze of fairground mirrors – with a distorted idea of what it is to be “good enough”.

If your daughter is still little, imagining her as ateenager may seem a long way off now.

But as mums, we need to start early because ultimately it’s the long-term mental health and happiness of our children which is at stake.

By the time they are teens, 900,000 girls in the UK suffer feelings of depression and worthlessness according to a recent study by think-tank Demos. Images of slim-line, perfect celebs, models and pop stars bombard them from every direction, making them feel unable to measure up.

Because I didn’t want my two daughters to grow up in a society where their first precious years were taken up with worries about how they looked, as a parenting journalist,  I decided to write the first guide for parents on the subject.

But what I learnt as the author of “Where Has MyLittle Girl Gone?” is that no matter how hard parents try to screen them out,negative messages about what it means to be female still get through – and earlier than we realize.

Of course as parents, our ultimate goal should be asociety where those messages are switched off. But even with Government regulation, that’s still a long way off. In the meantime, we can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand while our girls are plagued by so much self-doubt.

But parents don’t have to feel powerless in the face of this onslaught.

What I discovered from the educators and child psychologists I interviewed for the book is that if  we can help create a strong core of self-belief in the formative years, our girls are better able to withstand  the pressure to reduce them to nothing more than the sum of what they look.

As they approach womanhood, they are less likely to measure their worth by how close they come to fitting cookie-cutter stereotypes of womenhood.

But building a sense of self-acceptance in our girls is so more than just telling them they are wonderful. That’s the easy part. It has to come from within.

Have you ever seen the huge and natural smile your daughter makes when she has done something for the first time – all by herself?

Because childhood is a process of learning to do new things, when adults wait on them hand and foot, kids simply see it as asign they can’t do these things for themselves.

So whether it’s making it’s getting dressed in the morning or stirring the pancake mix for breakfast, think first about what daughter is ready to do for herself – not what you can do for her.

Every time your child feels learns a new skill, it’s another building block in her self-esteem. As your daughter gets older it comes from knowing what she is capable of – and making her own informed decisions.

There is one other key way to shelter her against the drip, drip, drip erosion of her self-image. That is by helping her question -in an age appropriate way as she grows – what’s happening around her.

In the five minutes you take to explain that a pictureof stick-thin model she sees on the advertising hoarding has been airbrushed, you’ve taught her not to hold her up to an image of perfection that doesn’t exist.

Emotional intelligence – teaching your daughter to know herself and take responsibility for her feelings – will oil the wheels on that road.

If you help to give your child the gift of self-knowledge, she will learn to recognise how she really feels about herself and why.  As the years pass,  she will be self-sufficient enough not to be swept up with peer pressure – but to listen to her inner voice about what’s really good and bad for her.

Let me give you an example close to home. Last year,my nine-year-old Lily was invited to a pop star party where she was asked on the invitation to bring make-up.

Now I know that many mums believe that trying on a bit of eye shadow and lipstick is no more than a bit of harmless fun and experimentation– which it is, but only up to a point.

Girls naturally start to feel more self-conscious about how they look in their in their tween years, from about the age of 8.

If we actively encourage them to wear cosmetics at this age, they soon start to believe that make-up is something they need to look pretty. Very quickly, they pick up on the idea they’re not good enough without it.

I asked Lily how she felt about taking make-up to the party.  She told me she hadn’t really thought about it before. So we talked about how cosmetics aimed at  young girls are now the biggest growth area in the beauty industry.

I also explained my point of view that there is no beauty product in the world which could make Lily lovelier than she already is– but I also told her she had too many other qualities to be judged on appearance alone.

It didn’t take me to make the decision for her. She understood enough about herself – and the issues involved – to make her mind up for herself.

Without a fuss, she politely declined her host’s offer and went to the party make-up free, feeling good about the decision she had made for herself.

So as mothers, let’s help our girls look at themselves straight in the mirror –  and feel good about it.

It’s a long journey that needs to start as soon as tiny daughters recognise their own reflections.

But if we set out fostering self-worth and self-acceptance in our children early on, they will grow up seeing themselves as they really are.”

Where Has My Little Girl Gone? How to protect your daughter from growing up too soon is out now, price 7.99.

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