Parents, teachers and educators everywhere know in our hearts that girls and young women are in trouble and need our support. And the evidence is mounting to prove that we are right to be concerned.
A 19-year-long Scottish study published recently in the journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology showed that teenage girls are now the most depressed section of the population.
The study, by Helen Sweeting, showed that girls were reporting mental disorders at a rate of 44%. More than a third felt ‘constantly under strain’. More than a quarter ‘felt they could not overcome their difficulties’. Between 1987 and 2006, the number of girls who ‘thought of themselves as worthless’ trebled to 16%. Those who were so distressed they might need to be hospitalised rose threefold, to 18%.
And recent UK government research into 42,073 children between the ages of 10 and 15 concluded that the choices being made by teenage girls regarding diet, lifestyle and other health-related issues were so consistently damaging that they had become ‘a stand-alone group of the population’ requiring immediate intervention.
Amelia Hill, of London newspaper The Observer, reported on the research in her superb article After feminism: what are girls supposed to do? which I urge everyone to read.
Helen Sweeting, the author of the Scottish research, found it significant that her disturbing results came at a time of major upheaval in society — in Hill’s words, “…the period in which girls began to outperform boys academically, and the obsession with celebrity culture and the pressure on younger and younger girls to become sexualised.
“Girls’ problems are caused by a combination of very modern problems, including the breakdown of the family, and the pressures of rampant consumerism and of educational expectations – the need, in short, to have things, look good and succeed all at the same time. Add to that the spread across society of increasingly cynical, individualistic values and beliefs, and you have a pretty toxic mix.”
For explanations, Hill turned to a number of experts, including Natasha Walter, author of the new book Living Dolls, The Return of Sexism.
“Feminism’s own language of empowerment has been turned against it,” said Walter, “The language of empowerment has been harnessed to confuse sexual liberation with sexual objectification.”
I agree with Hill’s The Observer article that girls are “growing up in an atmosphere of unapologetic crudity”. Stripping, she noted, “is widely cited as a method of empowerment”.
Girls feel pressured now in a way they never have been before – to be thin, hyper-sexy, smart, glamorous, rich. And these expectations have created a ‘narcissism epidemic’. Respected American psychologist Jean Twenge studied almost 60 years’ worth of data on 37,000 American teenagers and found a staggering rise in the number of teens who score high on the narcissism personality index. And it is females who suffer the most from the depression and anxiety linked to narcissism, Hill noted.
“The narcissist has huge expectations of themselves and their lives,” said psychologist Twenge, “Typically, they make predictions about what they can achieve that are unrealistic, for example in terms of academic grades and employment. They seek fame and status, and the achievement of the latter leads to materialism – money enables the brand labels and lavish lifestyle that are status symbols.”
Other UK findings uncovered by Hill that make it impossible to deny that girls are in trouble include:
- Hospital admissions for anorexia nervosa among teen girls have risen 80% in the last decade.
- In the past year alone, there has been a 50% rise in violent crime committed by young women.
- One in three girls, and one in two boys, believe there are times when it is okay to hit a woman or force her to have sex.
It is clear that the pressure girls feel to be more and to have more has grown to the point that they are struggling to cope. They need our support and understanding right now.
Thank you to Sarah Casey for bringing Amelia Hill’s article to my attention.
This article contributed by Dannielle Miller, CEO of Enlighten Education, which helps girls develop a sense of power, self-esteem and confidence. See www.enlighteneducation.com for more.
See AWO’s article on Dannielle’s critically acclaimed book – The Butterfly Effect: A Positive New Approach to Raising Happy, Confident Teen Girls.