The Wonder of Girls , by Michael Gurian

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The Wonder of Girls by Michael Gurian
Hardcover - 320 pages
First Edition, January 2002
Published by Simon & Schuster, Inc.
ISBN 1-7434-1702-X / 074341702X

In The Wonder of Girls Michael Gurian demonstrates the clarity of his approach by identifying precisely which elements of parenting theory he advocates, and which ones he rejects. He's not like the many health and self-help authors who assemble a goulash of other people's ideas and tack their own names on them. The author starts with a few basic axioms and then build them into a practical system.

The Wonder of Girls : Understanding the Hidden Nature of Our Daughters - by Michael Gurian : Parenting Books

Gurian begins by rejecting the premise that there is no such thing as human nature. Unfortunately, this premise has been adopted by some feminists in response to the fact that male dominated hierarchies have cited (what is claimed to be) basic female and male nature, to provide an excuse to validate oppressive sex roles. Some sociologists and anthropologists have adopted this false premise out of overreaction to the behavioral determinism of an earlier era of thinking. They have swung to the opposite extreme, and attribute too many facets of human behaviors to "socialization." It's time to stop overreacting like a pendulum to some people's false notions of human nature. The debate known as "nature versus nurture" is not the either/or issue that some have assumed. While environment and experience matter much, recent scientific discoveries, particularly in biochemistry and neurobiology, "checked by experience," [Preface, page xix] nevertheless establish that human nature exists, and it has identifiable female and male aspects.

Gurian began his research by carefully observing "drops in self-esteem" [5] among girls and boys. This led him to identify four suppositions that he syas are simply wrong, and need to be revolutionized. These falsehoods are: (1) that "... human nature is not very important to girls' lives...." [page 8]; (2) that "... women do best when they are independent of men...." [11]; (3) that "... girls are victims...." in male-dominated society [13], an error that promotes "victim identity" [14]; and (4) the supposition that "... girls are dominated by gender stereotypes...." [17]


The Wonder of Girls : Understanding the Hidden Nature of Our Daughters , by Michael Gurian

(Section subtitles have been omitted for brevity)


Part I -- Why Girls Are the Way They Are

1. Beginning Our Search : A New Logic of Girls' Lives3
2. How Her Mind Works : Secrets of the Female Brain26
3. The Hidden World : The Biochemistry of Girls' Lives66

Part II -- What Girls Need

4. The Artful Mother : What Girls Need From Mom99
5. The Gifts of the Father : What Girls Need From Dad155
6. Innocence and Experience : Protecting the Emotional Development of Our Girls187
7. The Heroine's Journey : Building Character in Our Daughters228
8. Womanism : Giving Girls a Sacred Role in Life

Notes and References309

The author intends to replace these overreactions with what he calls the "intimacy imperative", by which he means "the hidden yearning in every girl's and woman's life to live in a safe web of intimate relationships." This is a necessary starting point if we are "to protect what is most beautiful and inspiring in our daughters even while protecting [their] social rights to equality and physical right to safety." [23]

Having begun with these principles, we can develop what Gurian calls "nature-based theory and nature-based parenting." This is going to require "an interdisciplinary approach to neurobiology, biochemistry, psychology, anthropology, moral theory, and sociology." [24]

The author takes us on a 9-page tour of "the stages of development of a girl's brain" [32], the four stages corresponding closely to stages that are already recognized in every college textbook on child and adolescent development. This leads to an outline of 13 changes in a girl's behavior which parents are likely to observe during her adolescence. [41-42] Next, he analyzes the usual decline in self-esteem among adolescents, the observation that initially got him started in his research.

I have concentrated above only on the first one-sixth of the book because it's Gurian's unique starting point that makes his book special. Over the next approximately 250 pages, the author unfolds all the specific parenting considerations and advice that arise out of that unique start. This includes specific messages for mothers and fathers. Of course, he discusses the many issues expected from any parenting book -- the challenges associated with manners, chores, maturation, education, etc.

A 9-page appendix recommends, for each age group, certain "books and movies that help girls grow." [297] 12-page 2-column index. No illustrations.

Reviewed by Nancy Lepore and Mike Lepore for

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The Wonder of Girls : Understanding the Hidden Nature of Our Daughters
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Book Description from the Publisher

Michael Gurian, whose national bestseller The Wonder of Boys presented a radical and enlightening view of parenting sons, now offers a groundbreaking approach to raising daughters.

In The Wonder of Girls , Gurian, himself the father of two girls, provides crucial information for fully understanding the basic nature of girls: up-to-date scientific research on female biology, hormones, and brain development and how they shape girls' interests, behavior, and relationships.

He also offers insight into a culture mired in competition between traditionalism and feminism and a new vision that provides for the equal status of girls and women yet acknowledges their nature as complex and distinct from men. He explains what is "normal" for girls each year from birth to age 20; what developmental needs girls face in each stage; how to communicate effectively with girls; and how to cope with developmental crises such as early sexuality, eating disorders, parental divorce, and more.

With personal insights, practical tips, real-life anecdotes, and accessible science, The Wonder of Girls creates a new parenting paradigm. Key elements include:

* a nature-based approach to why girls are the way they are

* the connection between the need for profound attachment and the physical and brain development of girls

* support for a girl's inherent need for intimacy

* tools to protect girls' self-esteem and emotional life

* a new approach to girls' character development and rites of passage.

With this scientifically based developmental map of girlhood, Gurian equips parents with a comprehensive guide for raising daughters. Challenging our culture to examine and embrace a crucial piece of the puzzle missing thus far, The Wonder of Girls elevates the dialogue on parenthood.

About the Author

Michael Gurian is a therapist, educator, and bestselling author. His work has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, and Time, and on Today, CNN, and National Public Radio. He is the co-founder of the Michael Gurian Institute, which administers training in child development and education. He lives with his wife, Gail, and two daughters in Spokane, Washington. link for
The Wonder of Girls : Understanding the Hidden Nature of Our Daughters
by Michael Gurian -- Hardcover

Book review reprinted with permission from

All books by Michael Gurian

The Wonder of Boys : What Parents, Mentors and Educators Can Do to Shape Boys into Exceptional Men  - by Michael Gurian : Parenting Books

In The Wonder of Girls , Michael Gurian aims to bring us new insights into the lives of our daughters in much the same way he attempted to open up the lives of adolescent males in The Wonder of Boys . While many of the chapters read like lessons in biology, plenty of parents will find useful tidbits and reflections from this father of two.

Gurian emphatically agrees with Deborah Sichel's ( Women's Moods : What Every Woman Must Know About Hormones, the Brain, and Emotional Health ) idea of "A woman's biology is the cornerstone of her mental health." He elaborates on this theory throughout his discussion on the physical changes in childhood and adolescence. This concept certainly holds some validity, but there's a fine line from here to "biology is destiny."

Some readers may find Gurian crosses that line with his claims of "brain pruning" and insistence about hormones: "they don't just change a girl into a woman, they are, to a great extent, the woman herself."

Others find his recommendations on hormonal treatments to be a literal lifesaver, and the book is peppered with positive anecdotes from his own life and families encountered in his training sessions.

Important issues like self-esteem, eating disorders, and sexual experimentation are all addressed, along with the role of the father and "the absolute sanctity of motherhood." Gurian offers a somewhat narrow path as a guide through your daughter's adolescence, but if nothing else, this book will provide a solid background in the physical aspects of her growth.

-- Jill Lightner link for
The Wonder of Girls : Understanding the Hidden Nature of Our Daughters
by Michael Gurian

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