Childhood is contracting for girls at a scary pace. Five-year-olds love High School Musical, six-year-olds ditch dolls for techno-gadgets and eight-year-olds are social networking.

Girls are therefore exposed to the downside of growing up – the bitchiness, bullying and peer pressure – sooner than ever. Despite all this it is possible to instil in them the confidence to cope, but we must start early and be strong.  Many mothers themselves lack confidence and feel pressure to conform, so it is no easy task.

Our girls face so much more than we did. At 14 my biggest concern was whether or not my footy team won. Boys were a pain, I never used makeup and rarely wore dresses. Due largely to technology and earlier physical development, girls are now lightyears ahead. They feel pressure to look “hot”, wear designer gear, have the latest phones and MP3 players, attend concerts, socialise online and do well at school. They face cyber bullying, overprotective parents and the saturation marketing of clothes worn by stick thin models.

In The Butterfly Effect, A positive new approach to raising happy, confident teen girls, Dannielle Miller urges mothers to be role models and show girls they don’t need to be perfect. “My hope is that you may harness the butterfly effect…by being conscious that your actions and words – even ones that seem trivial – have a big influence on your daughter, just as her peers and the media influence her,” she says.

We cannot underestimate the effect our own words and actions have on our girls. We should never tell them, for example, that they will get fat if they eat too much. Even as young as six this can instil a feeling of insecurity and inadequacy that can lead to eating disorders. Girls look up to their mums, even if they pretend to hate them as teenagers, so we must resist the temptation to talk negatively about ourselves, diet excessively and be slaves to fashion.

I have discussed marketing and peer pressure with my two girls since they were toddlers. They know ads aim to make them want things they don’t need, and that mean girls are often insecure. We also discuss the characters, why they act as they do and whether it is good or bad. They are certainly not perfect but, now turning nine and 11, they don’t care about labels and neither has asked for a mobile phone or set up a MySpace account. I know things will get tougher, but at least they are reasonably well armed.

Cheryl Critchley is the author of Unspoil Your Kids; Escape the Parent Trap. Check out her article on Unspoiling Your Kids and Are We Creating Wimps?


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