5 things all parents of ten-ager daughters need to know.

Madonna King sought the counsel of 500 10-year-old girls, 1,600 mothers, and 100 Year Five school teachers for her new book, Ten-ager. Dozens of school principals, teen psychologists, doctors, researchers and female role models were also interviewed to provide a guide for parents helping tween daughters into adolescence.

These are FIVE things all parents of ten-ager daughters need to know.

  1. Teach your daughter to swim in her own lane, not the lane of the girl next to her.

Girls told me repeatedly of the need to ‘fit in’ – in the way they looked and dressed and acted. They changed who they were, in the hope of ‘fitting in’ with friends, or being more popular. This constant need is exhausting, fed by a competitive system where they know when their marks are not as good as someone else’s. They are brutal in their self-assessment. That means our girls never believe they are enough, and I found this heartbreaking amongst the responses of 500 10-year-old girls. “I feel like I don’t fit in,’’ one said, and others mirrored that. If only they were taller. Or thinner. Or had different coloured hair. Or were smarter.

We need to teach our girls to swim in their own lane. Indeed, if you have a daughter, take her to a pool (or running track) and get her to stand on the starting blocks. Explain that’s where everyone starts – at high school or in life or in year 5. The end of the pool is the finish. How she gets there is her journey. She might swim fast, and then float. Do backstroke. Then butterfly. Stop and chat. Go like a bat-out-of-hell until she loses her breath. That’s her race – and she decides that. But she shouldn’t stray into the lane of the girl next to her. That girl will have her own story: she’ll run out of breath at some stage too, go faster or slower at different times, face challenges at different times. Each girl has a different journey – and if she’s too focused on someone else’s, she’ll miss the delight in her own.

  1. Talk her into understanding her potential.

One of my biggest shocks in writing Ten-Ager, which also included 100 middle-school teachers, and dozens of school principals and counsellors- was how girls quickly put a ceiling on their own potential. They decide, at 10, what they are not good at, by comparing themselves to others. “I’m not a Maths girl.’’ Or science girl. Or debater. And they then believe that! That means they then don’t challenge themselves – and that’s  heartbreaking. We need to encourage them to believe those chalelgns are little rips in the water they can navigate. We need to believe in them, and show them they can believe in themselves.

  1. Understand when puberty really begins.

While a girl might first menstruate at 12, the ‘under-the-bonnet’ changes begin years earlier – as young as six or seven. This time is an important marker to how they will fare as a teenager. This is when she starts to look outside her family to others. Who and what is she seeing? It’s our job to pack their landscape with real people (not online influencers) who they can confide in: cousins, aunts, neighbours, coaches, the lady around the corner. These real people are the antidote to their on-screen world. This is when they begin to decide their own identity.  Do they want to be a bit naughty like Sophie? Or wear clothes like Mia? Should she have a secret instagram account? What does she think of her own body? We need to understand this ‘invisible’ early stage of puberty – it’s a genuine chance for us to influence the teenager they will become.

  1. Sleep

 We can’t pick our daughter’s friends or do a host of other things we might like – but we can monitor their sleep. On average, 10-year-olds need nine to 11 hours sleep each night. But length of sleep is just one factor. Consistency is crucial too: similar bed times during the week, as on the weekend and on holidays. They time girls go to bed is also important – and on every count, earlier to bed beats later to bed. In Ten-Ager I show how sleep influences everything from behaviour and school marks to both blood and mental health. 

  1. Help her pack her friendship tool kit.

Many girls don’t understand the ingredients of good friendship: how to set boundaries, how to explain that, how friendship can take months or years to develop, and how it’s important to forgive a friend when the argument is not as big as the friendship. The smart phone and lock-down have meant many of our girls’ socialisation skills have plummeted, and schools are seeing that daily. Friendship is a life-long skill, yet it’s the biggest issue of concern for 10-year-old girls. We can make a difference here: not by picking their friends, but by teaching them how to choose friends.

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* Ten-Ager, what your daughter needs to know about the transition from child to teen, by Madonna King is out now (Hachette, $33).