A growing number of girls are growing up at home, often to a younger age than their parents, and in many cases not to the same level as their male counterparts, a study has found.
Key points:More than half of girls aged 12 to 18 are growing older at home than their fathers, with girls more likely to have had an unhealthy relationship with foodSource: Research by the Centre for Research on Children and FamiliesA study of the growing number and distribution of growing-up girls, by researchers at the Centre on Family, Social and Economic Dynamics at the University of Toronto, found that half of the girls aged 10 to 12 were growing older than their biological parents, with more than half living in a home with more people than they could possibly share.
The study, which examined data from more than 20 countries and territories, found a growing number among girls aged 11 to 13, but that most of the growth was among girls living in families with more members.
A key reason for this is that girls are more likely than boys to have unhealthy relationships with food.
More than 80 per cent of the children in the study lived in households with a parent who was not the biological father of the child, and another 10 per cent lived in families where both parents were in care.
“What we found is that the more people you share with, the more likely you are to have an unhealthy child,” said Dr. Jennifer Kornbluth, an assistant professor of psychology at the university and co-author of the study.
The study also found that girls living with parents who were not their biological fathers were at greater risk of having an unhealthy childhood, with those living with an abusive relationship, or one in which the relationship was abusive, or an unhealthy sexual relationship, more likely.
In many cases, this was because of a negative relationship, such as abuse or physical abuse.
Researchers found that young girls who lived in environments that were not conducive to learning, or were less well-off, were also at higher risk of developing behavioural problems.
In addition, young girls living under extreme poverty were more likely and at greater levels to have a poor diet and were less likely to be physically active.
Dr. Kornblade said one of the reasons why so many girls were living with their biological mothers was because parents often felt it was their responsibility to look after the child.
Children who live with their parents do not always have a strong sense of family, she said.
While it is not possible to prove causality, the study suggests that living in environments where children are raised by parents who are not their parents may have long-term effects on the health of young girls, especially those in poverty.
This was the case for children living with mothers who were in low-income families, the researchers said.
Dr Korn Bluth said that while parents are often assumed to be in charge of the health and well-being of children, this is often not the case.
Dr. Jennifer E. Kuss of the Centre, co-authored the study, said:”There is a lot of evidence showing that young children have very little influence on the way their parents behave and their lives are.
There is also evidence that children in very poor households are also at increased risk for many of the negative outcomes associated with child poverty.”
The fact that these children are living in poor families with high levels of deprivation, in fact living in very close proximity to low-resource families, suggests that they are at greater health risk than their peers.
“Source: Center for Research of Children and Family (CRCF) (in English)