Girls’ mental health is in a bad way. Particularly post-pandemic, we have a new crisis on our hands. 38% of teen girls have severe anxiety; that’s a lot, nearly four in every ten.
No, stop! When we catastrophise, we become paralysed. Rather than freeze, let’s act. We can make a difference to girls’ lives. We can change how it is for girls’ growing up. All of us can – anyone who knows a preteen or teen girl can change her world.
First of all, let’s start by noting that the massive rise in anxiety, self-harming, school-refusing, is natural. It’s a reasonable and normal response to stress. And haven’t we all been stressed! Many governments, schools, parents were so busy with surviving the pandemic, we didn’t notice how badly it was affecting our children. And while it was hard enough for us adults, imagine how unsettling the past few years have been for our young ones. Suddenly it seemed like death was all around us, and everything that gave life stability was removed – seeing family and friends, the rhythm of school, being safe outside the home.
When anyone feels stressed, they respond automatically to the threat in a number of ways – to run away, to fight it off, or to freeze. And that’s what we’re seeing in our children now – a natural stress response. It’s natural and normal to respond to what’s just happened in the world with increased anxiety, aggression, or obsession. Normal but not nice. Not if it’s you who’s feeling super anxious, or if you’re parenting a child who is hurting herself or hitting out.
But first let’s reassure them that there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re just responding normally to stress.
And it’s not their fault – the body’s response is instant and automatic.
And it won’t go on forever – everything passes, life will get easier.
But there are things they can do to ease their suffering – some they already know and some they can learn.
And there are things we can do to help them – so there’s hope for everyone.
So, what can you do?
- Well, every person is different, so what you have to offer will be unique to you; and what each girl needs is unique to them.
- But start with noticing the signs of stress.
- Don’t get busy with wanting to make the signs of distress go away, or trying to fix them.
- Allow yourself to be touched by the child’s struggle.
- And listen to whatever she says, even if it doesn’t seem important.
- Take her stress seriously, teens especially feel everything more intensely (as their brains change).
- Trust that she’s got a lot of what she needs already inside her.
- Help her to realise this by being interested in her solutions to her problems.
- Share stories of times when you’ve felt similarly.
- Trust your instincts in what to say; and when in doubt, listen more than speak.
- Ask her what she needs.
- Connect her with other girls who are having similar experiences.
- Research with her what professional help is available – school, online, within her community.
- Check back in with her, regularly; even when she seems okay.
- But don’t take on responsibility for her, don’t take that away from her.
- Trust her to be able to resolve her challenges; helping her to find the support that she needs.
- Love her, in whatever way feels right to you.
Rites for Girls received National Lottery funding to create Girls’ Net which provides guidance and camaraderie through times of challenge to small groups of same-age girls (aged 8-18) in weekly online sessions over 6 weeks. Our mentors offer tools for coping well and the girls access their inner resources while also realising that they’re not alone and can even support each other.