Australian psychologist Steve Biddulph must feel he’s hit gold with his new book, Raising Girls. After all, enormous pieces in not only the Sunday Times but the Daily Mail – both presenting his book as fact and the definitive way to bring up your daughter – will surely send all those middle-class parents rushing to Amazon or Waterstones for their copy.
For this is where Biddulph excels – terrifying parents who naturally want to bring up their children the best way they can. Indeed in Raising Girls and his other hit book, Raising Boys, he managed to unearth the deepest fears of any parent.
Thus his shocking article in the Daily Mail begins by stating that ordinary 17-year-old girls are these days dressing like prostitutes – tying this in neatly with child sex abuse by the third paragraph and by the fifth stating that all this means girls (implying your daughter) are having sex with ‘numerous’ boys and not because they want to but because they feel they should.
But as the parent of three children in their early twenties, in my opinion it is this sort of book that poses far more danger to young people than anything else this generation has seen.
For a start I dislike the way he has even written a book about raising girls. What about raising individuals – that to my mind, is the first step to being a good parent. Seeing your children as individuals and also not seeing boys and girls as so different. Regardless of sex, we are all people with the same basic needs and emotions. And as a mum of two completely different sons, you simply cannot generalise as Biddulph likes to do saying ‘all girls are like this’ and ‘all boys are like that.’
Rules feature heavily in this book – and far too much for my liking. The reason is quite simply making so many rules will give your child something to rebel against. And his rules are the sort of things that will likely cause huge unnecessary rows. Imposing RULES such as this one that all members of the family charge and leave their phones in the kitchen each night are just unrealistic (for me anyway!!) Another rule is removing all digital media from your daughter’s bedroom including the TV, a rule for how long your daughter can spend on social media, and having filtering advices on your computer to stop any porn from ‘corrupting’ your child.
Porn seems to be Biddulph’s biggest obsession. Reading Biddulph’s newspaper articles you will quickly come to conclusion that your child is exposed to porn every waking hour and that you as a parent must fight the battle to keep them away from it.
Although he gives contradictory views. For example on the one hand he says that girls watch porn to find out about the facts of life (which you as a good parent should stop by putting filters in place and so on) but fails to acknowledge the reason a child has to find out about the facts of life this way might be because mummy hasn’t told them the facts of life herself…
But as a real life journalist for over 30 years I have news for Biddulph. Porn isn’t new, sex isn’t new. Yes once it was more covered up – if I had one pound for every interviewee aged over 30 who contacts me to tell me they were sexually abused as a child, I would be rich – whereas now with the internet it is more accessible.
But surely rather than try to stop your child viewing it (which they will find a way to do anyway despite you) it would be better to accept like it or not, this is the world we live in now. What about helping build your daughter’s self esteem, giving her advice about how to keep safe and how to say no to sex?
Unfortunately there is no proper advice about this at all. Instead he suggests if you suspect your daughter is being sent sexual texts or images (known as sexting) that you check her phone? Does he really think telling any parent to check their child’s phone is good advice? I feel strongly that you should never ever check your child’s phone under any circumstance because it is a gross invasion of your child’s privacy. Again, what about building a relationship with her so she can come to you and tell you…
Let me put it another way, my daughter, 21, holds down a full time job and does a full time degree, my son, 22, spent a gap year working for me but decided he wanted to make his own mark in the world and has landed a job he adores in the City and my eldest son, 24, a partner in my husband’s business is about to complete on his first investment property (with no help whatsoever from us or anyone else, save a mortgage he himself arranged.) All fiercely independent, they currently choose to live at home and regularly accompany us still on family holidays. Having negotiated childhood and those tricky teen years, they are three people who are witty, intelligent and who I would choose first to have dinner with at a restaurant. I can talk about any subject, any topic in the world without any embarrassment with any of them.
But I didn’t get to this point by disrespecting my children when they were younger and invading their privacy by checking up on them by snooping on their mobile phones. Neither did I ever time how long they spent on Facebook or remove the TV from their bedrooms nor waste my time reinforcing petty little ‘rules’ that simply caused resentment.
Most of all despite having two sons, I chose not to read Biddulph’s book Raising Boys because I saw my children as individuals. Today I have equally long conversations with my sons and am as equally close with them as with my daughter.
There is a big danger as well that making so many rules, checking your kids’ phones and generally being the sort of parent who buys a book called Raising Daughters will force your child to leave home as soon as possible – perhaps going to Exeter university, the subject of another Daily Mail expose today about how an ‘obscene video filmed at a safe sex balls gives an insight into culture of sexual bullying and voyeurism at our top universities’ – and rebelling in the most shocking way of all once they are away from you.
I get fed up with people like Biddulph tarring all young people with the same brush. And considering the Jimmy Savile case and sex abuse in the 1970s, 1980 and 1990s that has since come out, I find all his talk about sexualisation of children in 2013 – as if everything is so much worse – as simply sensationalism.
The only reason I can think for it is from his point of view, as sex sells, it should sell lots of books.
It’s also interesting that in The Telegraph today another psychologist Prof Tanya Byron warns children are being raised ‘in captivity’ because of growing paranoia about their health and safety. I would add that some of Biddulph’s RULES border on stifling your child. It is normal for a teenager to want to look at porn and find out more. But phases like this generally pass by and sometimes it is therefore best to turn a blind eye instead of making a big thing about it (before it has even happened…)
The truth is about young people is in my opinion far less interesting – many young people today are very hard working. A recent survey found many are actually turning away from booze. They spend long hours under pressure to get good GCSEs and A levels. They then face getting a job or getting into uni and difficulties buying their first home.
I do agree with Biddulph that children want parents to be parents – no-one wants their parent clubbing with them for example – but if you have a good relationship you’ll find his RULES aren’t necessary anyway. And if you want to be friends with your kids when they are adults, I can’t help feeling that his way isn’t the way you would want to go. Try treating your kids with respect – never invade their privacy, always knock on their door before entering, be polite, give sensational parenting books a wide berth and for goodness sake don’t talk about RULES…
Have you read this book? Is it a book you would buy? Let us know your views below…