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Fashion, diets and porn: Just a few reasons why raising girls is harder today

Is it harder to raise girls than boys?

A new book, to be released this month, suggests parents of girls face some enormous challenges, particularly when it comes to protecting their children from a "greedy corporate world" that exploits young females through the marketing of fashion, diet solutions, alcohol and pornography.

Australian author Steve Biddulph indicates these factors may be in part to blame for a rise in mental health problems among girls. The parenting expert, who penned the 2003 book Raising Boys on the gender-specific challenges of parenting boys, told The Sunday Times that girls are now more vulnerable, which is why he has now turned his attention to girls in his new book Raising Girls.

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"Problems such as eating disorders and self-harm, which once had been extremely rare, were now happening in every classroom and every street. But more than this, the average girl was stressed and depressed in a way we hadn't seen before," he said.

Companies, advertising agencies and media outlets have waged a "war on girls," he said.

"Companies saw that there were enormous profits to be made in exploiting their anxieties (or in fact, creating those anxieties) about everything from skin to weight to friendship to clothes," he said. "And it succeeded. Everywhere she looks, today's young girl sees messages that make her feel she is not good enough, that imprison her in ... narrow ideas of how she is supposed to look, think and act."

Biddulph also blamed parents, relatives and society for failing to provide proper support for girls, not giving them enough "adult time" and care.

He noted that girls today are growing up far more rapidly than their mothers did. "To put it bluntly, our 18 is their 14. Our 14 is their 10."

Parenting blogs and web sites tend to agree that there are specific concerns to consider when raising girls, particularly surrounding body image issues and self-esteem that tend to be amplified by commercial pressures.

But is one gender really harder to parent than the other? "I think parents use 'which is harder?' as an expression of whatever our frustration is at the moment," family therapist Michael Gurian told Parenting magazine. "Boys and girls are each harder in different ways."

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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