February 26, 2020
Raising Resilient Girls
By Dr Kathy Weston
I have been mulling over some of the challenges that our girls face growing up today. Young teen girls are struggling nationally, with emotional difficulties escalating as they move from early to mid-adolescence.
On average, emotional problems increase by 17% between the ages of 11 and 14. This is in contrast to boys who show fairly stable levels of difficulties, even decreasing slightly over time (Anne Freud Centre, 2020). By 16-19 years, one in four girls are suffering from mental health difficulties.
Self-harming behaviours are also on the rise. Currently 25% of 15 year olds will be hurting themselves. The tragic suicide of Caroline Flack highlights to me (a) just how much successful women can be pilloried by the media and (b) how if grown women struggle with social media abuse, what chance does a 12 year old have? How can we make sense of what we are hearing and reading about? What do we need to reflect on further as parents?
First of all, you need to think about your daughter’s life through her eyes.
What is it like to be her? What matters to her? Who does she look up to and why? Does she get enough sleep? Does she have a positive relationship with digital technology? Does she know that some people will always be unkind, but have strategies for coping? Does she feel able to talk to you when she gets upset? Does she have other outlets for processing her thoughts? Does she get enough physical activity? Are you modelling to her how you cope with everyday challenges in friendships, at work and in your life? Are you doing things together that make you feel closer? Are you giving her opportunities in her life to feel confident and competent?
These are the first questions I would ask you to reflect on as the parent of a daughter(s).
One populist view is that puberty and hormones are to blame for the bulk of teenage behaviour and mood, but I would argue that we aren’t looking in the right direction here.
To address girls’ declining mental health, we need to focus on the better management of key pivotal transitions around adolescence:
1. Transition into a new school shouldn’t necessarily be traumatic, but for some children it is. We need to manage change well, preferably by focusing on boosting children’s resilience in the months leading up to the transition.
2. We should not be giving girls access to social media before they are emotionally ready – the age rating of 13 is there for a reason.
3. We need to pay more careful attention to our girls’ digital diet. Let’s make sure they are looking up to Greta instead of Kylie (if you get my drift!).
4. You might be tempted after reading this blog to mollycoddle your daughter, when in fact the opposite is what is needed. Ensure you nudge her into exciting adventures and activities that leave her amazed by her own progress or achievement. Teach her to relish challenge and to be unafraid to try.
Behind every resilient girl, is a parent saying “come on, give it a shot”.
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