Madonna King

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What do girls want their dads to know, but they’re too afraid to say?

Madonna King, the award-winning journalist, interviewed more than 1,300 girls and 400 dads for her new book Fathers & Daughters. At Korowa’s Pop Up Parenting seminar on Thursday 7 February, she told local families that time and again, girls wanted more time with their father and for them to just ‘be there.’

Even when teenage girls seem to be pushing their father away,  they desperately want to spend more time with them. In the early Junior years, girls are very connected with their fathers and see them as ‘giants’ or their heroes. By nine or ten, girls start to rely more on their friend rather than their parents as sources of influence. They start to drift away from their fathers, mainly because they feel that their father hasn’t had the same experiences as a young girl.

Madonna King found that this period was key in forming a strong bond for later life. If you give your daughter too much space and privacy, she will drift apart and it will be harder to connect later in life. Her key take-away was that girls still need support through their teen years, even if they present as though they don’t.

So what can you as a father, or significant male figure in a girl’s life, do?

The three ways you can connect with your daughter

  1. Form a bond through sport (or physical activity) – Madonna interviewed girls who said that they loved having this common interest with their fathers. Whether it was playing a sport, taking  a walk, watching a sport together or even being ferried to Saturday sport, girls found these valuable opportunities to connect.
  2. Validate her opinion – fathers have the ability to crush their daughter’s self-esteem. This was something girls reported many times to Madonna, and what they think you think of them affected their own view of themselves. At School, they are encouraged to be leaders independent thinkers and are respected for their attempts to define their own world. At home, Madonna suggested fathers acknowledge that girls are still forming their opinions and should be encouraged to develop an opinion, even if it differs from your own. As a school leader told her, “leave being QC in the courtroom and be Dad in the lounge room.”
  3. Make one-on-one time, even if they don’t ask – time and being present, were the most common things girls wanted from their fathers. Doing something together was the second most common, but girls were afraid to ask. Madonna suggested setting up a coffee date weekly or fortnightly, or taking an interest in something that your daughter does, for instance, watching a TV show together. "You build the relationship as part of the ritual, and when life gets tough, as it invariably will, and they start to withdraw, you say, 'Well, every second Friday, we are having breakfast'," she says.

The role and influence of mothers is widely recognised, however fathers or other male role models also have a significant influence on their daughters. You have the capacity to help them grow into strong, warm women, and they want your help.