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Teen Girls in Crisis

teen girls in crisis

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released its Youth Risk Behavior Data Summary and Trends Report: 2011-2021. If there was one headline above all others it would be this: “Teen Girls Are in Crisis.”

As the Washington Post reported, stark findings “on the pervasive sadness, suicidal thoughts and sexual violence endured by teen girls have jolted parents and the wider public.”

And jolted they should be.

Nearly one in three high school girls have considered suicide, reflecting a 60% rise in the past decade. Nearly 15% have been forced to have sex. About six in 10 girls were so consistently sad or hopeless they stepped away from regular activities. It truly is, as the Washington Post reported, “uncharted territory for the health advocates, teachers, counselors and parents who are trying to help them.”

This while, among teens, reports of smoking are down. Drug use is down. Drinking is down.

So, what is causing this?

There is no shortage of finger-pointing: “Growing up in a social-media culture, with impossible beauty standards, online hate, academic pressure, economic difficulties, self-doubt and sexual violence. The isolation and upheaval of covid made it tougher still.”

One could argue that this is not dissimilar to what teenage boys face. So, again, why girls?

Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd points out that “girls are more likely to respond to pain in the world by internalizing conflict and stress and fear, and boys are more likely to translate those feelings into anger and aggression,” thus masking their depression.

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, notes that part of the problem is that digital media has displaced the face-to-face time teens once had with friends, and that teens often don’t get enough sleep. In addition to those influences are the hours teens spend scrolling through social media. For girls, she said, this often means “comparing your body and your life to others and feeling that you come up wanting.” While noting that not everything people do on smartphones is problematic, Twenge says that “social media in general and Internet use show the strongest correlations with depression.”

What may be most alarming among the data collected by the CDC was the rise of suicidal thoughts among teen girls—24% of teen girls have planned a suicide while 13% have attempted. That is almost twice the rate for boys.

It has been pointed out by more than a few that the CDC data was collected in the fall of 2021, “a time when many teens were anxious about returning to in-person school and wearing masks.” What the next wave of data will reveal is anyone’s guess.

So what can be done?

Most teens would say that adults should listen to them more and believe what they say more, instead of dismissing their concerns as mere “drama.” In short, take what they are going through seriously.

The CDC report steered its attention to the nation’s schools, recommending improved access to mental health services, more classroom management training for teachers, high-quality health education and enforcement of anti-harassment policies.

Those would all be helpful steps.