If you’re a parent of an adolescent girl, you might be all too aware of the struggles they’re facing during these formative years.
Last year, a study by the CDC revealed higher levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in female teenagers, and there are some obvious reasons why.
What is causing mental health issues in teen girls today?
Our teen daughters are experiencing more pressure than ever before in every area of their lives. Social media and societal messages keep pushing them to do and be more than hours in the day while adhering to certain appearance standards.
Social media exposes them to dangerous messaging and images that feeds them a steady diet of lies that are tough to combat.
Young girls are constantly struggling with perfectionism, and often are internalizing the strain and stress of peer pressure, social status, academic standards, and higher achievements in their competitive activities, all the while feeling an intense threat of failing in any of these areas every day.
Sexual attacks and other traumatic events are also on the rise, leading to the feeling of hopelessness many young girls face.
Mix in the drastic physical changes they are experiencing with puberty, the hormonal fluctuations that affect their emotional stability and the rapid development of their teenage brain, and it’s easy to see why their mental health is declining rapidly.
The culture our tween and teen girls are growing up in has changed dramatically, and it’s impacting teen girls for the worse.
How can parents help their adolescent daughters during this time.
As parents, we must be alert and aware of all the harmful aspects that are developing in their lives and take bold steps to dive into the pit of pressure, pull them out, and give them a different perspective: one that is based on building their self-esteem and unwavering worth that isn’t measured by the world.
Instead of throwing our hands up and blaming outside influences, it is our job to help provide our teens with coping mechanisms and tools they can use to manage the chaotic world in which they live. It is a time to lean in to the connection with your teen daughter, not check out.
We play a powerful role in presenting them with ways to protect their self-esteem and find purpose and strength from within.
You may also like to read: 10 Things Girls Need from Their Moms During These Tough Teenage Years
What are the major influences affecting our girls?
1. Puberty is happening earlier now.
How teen girls develop mentally, physically, and socially are important factors in their identity and confidence.
As their bodies are changing at a younger age, they grow increasingly uncomfortable with the details of their development compared to others they see both with their peers as well as in the world of social media. Additionally, because puberty is occurring earlier, young girls are not emotionally ready to handle it.
They can constantly critique their bodies as they digest the impossibly perfect images everywhere they look. They are immersed in an over-sexualized culture that encourages them to present themselves as older and more mature than they feel, and perhaps participate in sexual activity before they are ready.
This can lead to a higher incidence of risky behavior, including sex, drugs, alcohol, or other dangerous encounters.
Pubescent girls are insecure in their skin and desperately trying to fit in and find affirmation. Adding to their physical changes, their emotional well-being is dramatically affected by hormonal surges that fluctuate constantly, which often makes them more sensitive to absorbing dangerous outside messages and falling victim to those who prey upon them.
2. Social media has a profound impact on adolescent girls.
Teen girls are affected by social media more than boys who are exposed to whatever their fingers impulsively tap on without any discernment. Young girls seek validation, support, and direction from online peers and media “influencers” who do not have their best interests at heart. They also are more likely to fall prey to malicious strangers who use their insecurity to lead them down dangerous paths. The CDC report details how both teen girls and boys were harassed more online (most likely because they spent more time online during the pandemic.)
Parents should regularly talk to their teens about developing healthy tech habits, and issues such as sextortion, cyberbullying, and filters. Many teens do not understand that perfectly curated social media posts often do not portray reality.
Big tech companies are just starting to be held accountable for dangerous marketing tactics to this influential group, but there is a long way to go. Young girls often experience a virtual downslide that can spiral out of control, causing them to start believing new ideas and develop new behaviors they would have been exposed to pre-Internet. The constant barrage of negative images combined with access to dangerous information is crushing our girls and leading to behavior such as self-harm, eating disorders, and other life-threatening issues.
3. Navigating challenging peer relationships
On top of the challenges that come with the online world, some peers can be cruel to each other in unimaginable ways. Trying to navigate the constantly shifting dynamics of social circles, mean girl friendships, and those unending dynamics of trying to fit in while being ridiculed and rejected can lead any teen girl toward a variety of emotional problems.
One day they are accepted and liked by their peers, and the next they are judged, abandoned, and hated for no apparent reason. It’s so hard for them to find trusting friends who actually care about their well-being and are genuine and supportive.
Our teen girls live in a conditional world that thrives on outside sources for their validation and worth. But the conditions are constantly changing, so there’s no stability for their own security and self-esteem to be planted firmly into their foundational identity.
No wonder our girls are suffering so much these days.
4. Pressure to succeed in a competitive landscape leading to high school burnout
In addition to young girls putting undue pressure on themselves in regards to their appearance, there is also the extreme expectations forced on them to perform at the highest level in their academics and extracurricular activities. This is often driven by the crazy state of college admissions.
The bar is so beyond their reach that only a few can touch it.
These days, a 4.0 isn’t good enough for a student, nor is a varsity letter for an athlete or a starring role for an actor. To excel in anything our teens are pursuing, they feel they have to commit their entire lives full of intense discipline and ongoing work to have a chance of reaching that goal.
The competition is so fierce that either our teens give up and feel like a failure, or they endure a life full of stressful, rigid, high-level dedication that honestly no teen should be experiencing at this age.
It’s all in or all out; no in-between if our teens are interested in pursuing anything.
How can parents help support their teenage girls?
We must remember our teens are kids, full stop. We cannot have them sacrifice their childhoods for fear that they will miss out on something as adults. Parents need to be intentional with monitoring and evaluating the welfare and health of their girls now more than ever before.
Of course, our kids need the freedom to develop their independence while they grow and learn on their own without us constantly hovering over them. But there are too many external influences that are taking over our kids’ lives, and it’s destroying their fragile identity.
As much as we feel like we don’t have any control over the world outside of our homes, we DO play a critical role in managing those forces and helping our girls understand how all of those factors are affecting them.
They need us to guide them through the details of their physical development with much-needed information and gentle encouragement as they grow and change into young women.
Here are a few simple ways to help your teen or tween daughter in today’s chaotic world:
1. Help them understand that social media is not “real life.” They often cannot discern what is true or not while filtering through the massive influx of outside forces affecting their perspectives and choices. This learning and awareness they desperately need comes from hands-on, plugged-in parents who continue to have conversations about the news and what their girls are seeing online. Show them how filters work and that most images are airbrushed. Talk about celebrities, athletes, and other influencers who struggle with their mental health. Ask your child about things that go on at school that may make them uncomfortable, such as drug use, vaping, bullying, etc., so they can be comfortable to come to you if the need arises.
Additionally, help them understand and filter through the inundating online material they are constantly consuming to begin seeing with clarity and conscious intention that what they are viewing and experiencing can be deceptive and dangerous.
2. Set limits and boundaries. To put it simply, boundaries are love. Boundaries are that invisible line that helps you determine your behavior, or how you want to be treated. During childhood, and especially during the teen years, parents often set boundaries to provide structure, guidance, protection, and a sense of security for their kids. These “limits” often help teens to stay safe and develop their self-worth. Just make sure you you make them flexible so your teen doesn’t try to get around your boundaries at every juncture.
3. Be a coach, not a drill sergeant. We need to help our daughters build their confidence by letting them make mistakes and figure out what to do next. Instead of rescuing them or making decisions for them, we need to coach and encourage them through these years. Young girls will not believe in themselves if we do not believe in them first.
4. Model and support strong friendship. Many young girls struggle with wanting to be popular and cultivating strong friendships. We need to teach teen girls what strong friendship looks like and how to support other young women. Nothing is better than cultivating a compassionate community filled with people who value and respect each other.
5. Let them know we understand times have changed. We need to tell them we can’t even imagine the pressures they face at their age and we want to be there for them through it all.
6. Encourage them to try new things. Young people who find a passion, hobby, or interest have better self-esteem and are at a lower risk for mental health problems. Let your daughter branch out (no matter how silly it might seem to you).
We need to ask them if they really want to dedicate their efforts and time to certain extra-curricular activities that might be more stressful than necessary while offering them alternative options to pursue instead. More importantly, listen to them if they want to quit an activity. Sometimes they need a break, or there might be something else going on that they don’t feel ready to tell you.
We need to ensure they know that what is important to them is more important than anything else, and not get caught up in the hype of this competitive culture ourselves.
7. Say it out loud: “We love you unconditionally.” We need to regularly remind them of their worth, their gifts, and their potential– and that our love for them isn’t conditional on their test scores or wins, their popularity or appearance, their post-graduate choices, or college acceptance letters.
8. Stay available and seek connection. While many teenage girls start retreating to their bedrooms and isolating themselves, parents need to continue to knock on their doors and be present. While it may feel like rejection, sometimes teenagers do things at they own time and pace. We need to remain in the wings whenever they want to connect with us, and to show up when they need us and stay available when they don’t because our presence is sometimes more potent than anything else.
Also, don’t dismiss their interests. Instead, lean into them. While it may be frustrating that your daughter is now obsessed with her skin care routine or some Instagram influencers, try to take an interest in them. Try that new face mask she’s been talking about, watch some of the videos of her favorite YouTube stars, or watch the movie with that big name star. Connection shouldn’t just be what you are interested in.
We need to ask them questions, walk alongside them, find ways to spend time with them, understand how they feel loved by us, and then act on it.
9. Be their biggest cheerleader. We need to talk positively about them when they are listening and acknowledge all the important things they are doing. And when they fail or fall short, when they make mistakes or give up, we need to meet them right there with our unwavering love and support. Reward the effort, not the outcome.
We need to fight for our voice to be louder and for our words to penetrate deeper because if they keep hearing it from us, they just might realize how unrealistic and harmful all those other outside influences are. Not sure where to start? Try incorporating positive affirmations into your home, writing notes, or even sharing positive memes with them via text.
10. Be a role model, not a rules enforcer. Because the world is chaotic, our kids need a safe and secure home that enables them to grow and build an identity that can withstand outside forces. The best way to show that your teen that loving yourself is important is by taking care of yourself as a parent. Show them the importance of self-care, nutrition, healthy tech habits, exercise, coping mechanisms, etc. Do them together. The goal isn’t perfection but demonstrating that you know these are important.
Teen girls can overcome these struggles with our help
We can help our struggling teen girls if we are intentional and relentless with our guidance and love. We can give them a chance to develop the wisdom, strength, confidence, and courage to see the lies and begin believing the truth about themselves instead.
The truth is that they are enough; they are worthy of acceptance, love, and respect as they grow up and chase their dreams.
We are in a war for our daughters, and our girls are growing up on a battlefield full of enemies with weapons that are viciously attacking and wounding them from every possible direction.
We’ve lost a few battles, but with our love, we will win the war.
Looking for another resource to help your daughter through a challenging time? This book Raising Girls that Actually Like Themselves is a raw and revealing take to empowering young girls to take on this challenging new world.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
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