At a certain point in their lives, young girls need someone to turn to other than their parents and that's where aunts come in.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on November 12, 2021. It has since been updated.
Mothers play a vital role, which is supposedly on par with none, in shaping their daughter's life. But as it turns out aunts play just as important a part in raising girls, with a parenting expert even claiming that their role is crucial in their development process. It's not necessary for your aunties to be a blood relative, they can be a family friend or your mother's best friend who positively affects your life while growing up. Those who have had the privilege of growing up with this long support system know just how special this relationship can be. For those who don't, psychologists and parenting expert Steve Biddulph had some eye-opening deductions to share.
Appearing on ABC's Parental as Everything podcast, Biddulph started by reiterating that young girls need strong adult role models to thrive in their life. Biddulph, who has published quite a number of highly-praised parenting books, including Raising Girls and 10 Things Girls Need Most To Grow Up Strong And Free, explained the unique challenges that are faced by girls today. In the age of social media, teenage girls are constantly sexualized leading to unwanted pressure in their day-to-day life. A more troubling trend that targets young girls is toxic messages from the media as well as the continuous inequality which has a negative effect on their mental health.
These messages turn out to be self-deprecating as they target girls' appearance and destroy their self-esteem, risking the development of anxiety and mental health issues as they grow up. Due to this, they need someone other than their parents to turn to and that's where aunts come in. Thus, he wants parents to be prepared to handle such situations from early on by introducing a loving auntie in their lives. They fulfill this role in a way that a mother could never and these aunties don't even need to be a blood relative. While speaking to podcast host Maggie Dent Biddulph said, "One of the things that we know is that, for example, something every 12-year-old girl knows for sure is that she doesn't wanna turn out like her mum."
Continuing to state the bitter truth, he added, "This is sad, I'm not taking any joy in this, but there are phases when they don't wanna listen to you, but they still need lots of help." Aunties are a pillar of mental health for girls. It doesn't have to be a blood relation, it's just somebody around your mum's age who loves you too. According to Mirror, Biddulph also had some advice for aunties on how they could help build these relationships over time. He suggested that anyone who knew any 8-year-old girl, irrespective of whether they are their niece or a friend's daughter, should invite the child for sleepovers or lunch dates without the parents' presence.
During these visits, they should ask the kids meaningful questions about what they wish to do with their lives or maybe even offer advice that the children may not be able to get from their mothers. Biddulph explained how these efforts would in turn help establish a strong and beautiful bond. "If you don't provide this then girls will default to the peer group, and this is where social media gets out of control because the peer group is very ill-equipped to be supportive," he warned. If you're an aunt don't underestimate the significance of building a relationship with your niece because before you know it they will be needing some advice to deal with tough decisions. She'll be relieved to know that she can always trust and turn to you.
Representative cover image source: Getty | Photo by Pollyana Ventura