According to researchers this is the unhappiest, loneliest and most stressed out generation on record — and its girls who are struggling the most. By adolescence girls are twice as likely as boys to develop a mood disorder. Depressive symptoms in teen girls increased by 50% between 2012 and 2015, at more than twice the rate of boys. The results of one study in 2017 showed the number of girls who described themselves as “confident” declines more than 25% throughout middle school.
Despite girls excelling academically, they still don’t believe they are smart enough. 30% of girls with the highest grade point averages don’t believe they are intelligent enough to get into a good college.
WHY IS THERE SUCH A DISPARITY?
We know from looking at brain scans that there are differences in the way girls and boys process emotional stimuli. Girls mature, in terms of their emotional recognition, faster than boys—and that sensitivity could make them more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and social acceptance.
WE KNOW THAT THE WORLD IS COMPLICATED FOR GIRLS
Fitting in, body image, pressure, academics, friendships and relationships are all challenging to navigate. Add to this, the potential challenges of technology and social media, and it is not surprising that girls are reporting high levels of pressure alongside declining levels of self-confidence. Girls
For too many girls today, motivation to be successful is fueled by intense self-criticism and fear that they will fail. Our girls may look exceptional on paper but they are often anxious and overwhelmed in life. Many feel that no matter how hard they try, they will never be smart enough, successful enough, pretty enough, thin enough, well liked enough, etc. And it starts young.
AVOID FAT TALK
Between 40% and 60% of elementary school girls monitor their weight. This is partially responsible for the gender disparity of depression.
Many parents believe that their girls in elementary school are too young to have body image issues. Nope. Body acceptance starts early. Kids are sponges and absorb everything around them. Your daughters are influenced by media and by family socialization, this can begin as early as preschool.
Monitor your “Fat Talk” at home. negative comments about your body, how much you’ve eaten or exercised, or comments about others’ bodies. This is body bashing, a kind of ritual self-hatred girls begin practicing early, and many of them learn it from adult women.
Focus your body comments on the ways her body serves her, not others. When your daughter achieves a physical goal, point out how her strong or agile body helped her do it. Talk about eating to be healthy so we can do the things we love with our bodies.
PRAISE THE PROCESS NOT THE RESULT
Well intended efforts to praise your daughter can often backfire. As a parent when you focus on the result this can be heard by your daughter as pressure or an expectation. For example, one study showed that praising intelligence could undermine a child’s confidence. Two groups of fifth graders received two different kinds of praise after taking an IQ test. Kids in one group were told, “Wow, that’s a good score. You must be really smart at this.” Kids in the other group were told, “Wow, that’s a good score. You must have worked really hard.”
Kids in both groups then had the opportunity to try a challenging task, with the promise they could learn from it. The kids in the “smart” group weren’t interested. The kids praised for their effort took it on. Not only that, the kids in the second group performed better over time, outpacing their “smart” peers on follow-up IQ tests. It appears that seeing intelligence as a fixed trait instills fear of failure that makes kids less able to handle setbacks.
DON’T BE A PERFECT PARENT
Role model messing up and making mistakes! Girls learn from media, adults, and peers to please others in order to remain likeable. The desire to please has a large impact on the loss of confidence for girls in the first place. Not surprisingly, many girls grow to fear failure. They think the more they succeed, the more liked they will be.
Whenever you can, show her that you can fail, mess up, make mistakes and still be okay; The world doesn’t end. Your worth didn’t change; your relationships didn’t change. The ability to handle disappointment and failure is the cornerstone for building confidence. She will learn from watching you.
USE SELF-COMPASSION NOT SELF-CRITISCM
This means that when you do make a mistake, feel bad, or embarrassed you role model saying “I feel really bad about this. It is okay to feel this way.” Rather than “I can’t believe this happened. I really messed up.”
Self-compassion is about being kinder to yourself when you are stressed or upset. Research shows that people who practice self-compassion have lower rates of depression and anxiety.
Next time you are running late and your daughter is with you rather than beating yourself up for being late try verbalizing kindness to yourself. Say out loud “I feel nervous because I am running late. It makes sense that I am late because I am busy and get behind. Lots of people run late. It won’t be the end of the world.”
Just remember to be in it for the long haul. Raising confident daughter’s is a process. Some days will seem easier than others. If your daughter needs help learning to fully accept herself, I am now enrolling for my fall Teen Girls Confidence Group. Contact Me to apply.