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.
A new study by the CDC reveals 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 girls are experiencing more pressure than ever before in every area of their lives. Social media and societal messages keep pushing them to be more than they are and do more than they already do, while looking perfect simultaneously.
They are exposed to dangerous messaging and images that infiltrate social media and feeds them a steady diet of lies they begin to believe.
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 and the hormonal fluctuations that affect their emotional stability, 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 our girls for the worse.
What can parents do to 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 inner self-confidence and unwavering worth that isn’t measured by the world.
We play a powerful role in presenting them with ways to protect their self-esteem and find purpose and strength from within.
What are the major influences affecting our girls?
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.
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 are fluctuating constantly which often makes them more sensitive to absorbing dangerous outside messages and falling victim to those who prey upon them.
Social media has a profound impact on adolescent girls.
Our 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.)
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 the access to dangerous information is crushing our girls and leading to behavior such as self-harm, eating disorders, and other life-threatening issues.
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.
Related: 10 Things Girls Need from Their Moms During These Tough Teenage Years
Pressure to succeed in a competitive landscape leading to high school burnout
Now throw in the extreme expectations forced on them to perform at the highest level in their academics and extracurricular activities, and it’s no wonder why teen girls are struggling.
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 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.
So, how can parents help support their teenage girls?
We must remember our teens are kids- full stop.
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 are keeping communication open and inviting while building a trusting relationship that lasts through these hard years.
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.
Related: How To Teach Your Tween Daughter About Puberty (and the important topics we forget)
They need an adult to set limits and boundaries for them while teaching them how to honor and respect their bodies with age-appropriate guidelines and parameters.
They need help understanding the inundating online material they are constantly consuming to begin seeing with clarity and conscious intention that what they are viewing and experiencing is deceptive and dangerous.
We need to coach them through tough decisions, cheer them on when facing challenges, and believe in them when they have yet to believe in themselves.
We need to teach them what a true friend is and how to trust in their instincts and develop self-respect, and not let others take advantage of them.
We need to guide them in cultivating a compassionate community filled with people who value and respect each other.
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.
We need to lead them in ongoing self-examination while acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses, their struggles and accomplishments.
We need to counsel them on finding their purpose and exploring plans for their future.
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.
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.
We need to show them how life has been magnified with overindulgence and extreme competition, and the reality is we are feeling it even if we don’t admit it. And the world can’t define their success or their happiness. Only they can decide that for themselves.
We need to regularly remind them of their worth and their gifts, and their potential that isn’t conditional on their test scores or wins, their popularity or appearance, their post-graduate choices, or college acceptance letters.
We need to knock on their bedroom doors often while tuning into their emotions and physical behavior and tending to their various needs as they slowly mature.
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.
We need to show up when they need us and stay available when they don’t because our presence is sometimes more potent than anything else.
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.
They need structure with rules and consequences to live in a predictable environment that promotes responsibility, accountability, time management, and self-care.
And we need to model for them what ALL those essential aspects in life look like so they too can emulate the same. They need a home that creates a safe and secure space for them to grow and build a strong identity that can withstand the relentless winds of the world.
What our girls need most of all is someone to believe in them and tell them they are loved, worthy, and full of unique talents and traits that no one else has. We must be truthful and authentic because they will see through a fake façade.
These are our children, our stressed-out, anxious, insecure, confused, depressed, and even hopeless girls who believe what the world says about them instead of us.
Related: Five Must-Read Books to Help You Effectively Parent Teen Daughters
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.
By doing this, we 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 and love, and respect as they grow up and become all they dream they can be.
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.
Let’s take up our arms and help them build theirs so they can win the fight to live the fulfilling and healthy life they deserve.
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.
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