Seven things our high school girls want us to know and what you can do to help
ATAR results, the fallout from COVID, friendships, identity, the future – these are just some of the things teenage girls worry about.
In her new book, L Platers: How to Support Your Teenage Daughter on the Road to Adulthood, award-winning journalist Madonna King spoke to 1,000 teenage girls, as well as parents and experts, to find out what issues concern them the most. .
Here’s what they want you to know and how you as a parent, teacher, mentor or friend can help.
Seven hundred of the 1,000 young women King spoke to said their mental health was their biggest challenge.
Eating disorders, self-harm, school refusal, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation are all on the rise.
“My relative thinks sanity is an excuse or a label.”
“I tell mum people have social anxiety and she says it’s just made up.”
King says it’s important for parents to recognize what their teens are saying and not just say “don’t worry.”
And, according to the girls King spoke to, it’s not just from parents.
One girl said schools have the wrong priorities: ‘they care more about uniforms, hair, makeup, etc., than bigger issues like bullying, mental health and well-being general”.
“My school likes to think it does a good job of handling student welfare, but no one who really struggles thinks it does,” said another girl.
Social media has reduced their life to a comparison
They know it’s wrong, but they can’t help but compare themselves to those perfect images that appear on their screens.
They even know their social media addiction is toxic, but struggle to figure out how to deal with it.
“It’s my escape from the world,” said one girl.
“I developed a near codependency,” said another.
“[Social media] makes me so insecure about my pale skin and acne or how gross my hair looks or how wide and round my face is.”
“I find myself hating the way I look more and more.”
“I would encourage parents to dive deeper, encourage critical thinking,” says Carly Dober, director of the Australian Association of Psychologists Inc.
She says parents should ask questions such as “why do you think this particular photo was posted?”, “who benefits?”, “how much work do you think went into this image and for what?
Ms Dober says some influencers curate their online presence with “military-like precision” and parents need to get their teenage daughters to think about these images in a different way.
School can be overwhelming
King says many girls have forgotten how to have fun, cutting back on their lives in the sole pursuit of a better ATAR rating.
“Grade 12 should bring smiles. It’s the last year of formal schooling and people should be able to go back to it and say it’s full of wonderful memories. It’s not for those girls,” King said.
They attribute it to the expectation placed within them. The tendency of schools to recognize only girls who are at the top of the class.
“The curriculum and the educational requirements not only kill the fun, but also any sense of balance.
King says it’s a systemic problem and school exams don’t test critical thinking, communication skills, listening skills or teamwork.
“The focus on ATAR is taking lives away from families and students,” she says.
“As adults, we need to focus on getting a degree for a whole person, not just an academic person.”
Ms. Dober says striving for a high ATAR score can get very exhausting.
“This year, that score becomes all that matters. That all-or-nothing thinking can lead to mental health issues down the road,” Ms. Dober says.
Ms Dober says parents need to remind their children they are more than their ATAR score and encourage them to think longer term, as well as sharing stories of how they coped when they were students .
This cohort most affected by COVID
The pandemic has had a significant impact on young people, who have suffered economically and socially.
“COVID lockdowns meant this cohort couldn’t make those calculated risks and judgments that their big sisters and brothers made,” King says.
King says adults have to figure out what they want young women to know and figure out how to give them that experience, because a lot of things that taught them life lessons have been undone during the pandemic.
“[Young adults] try new identities, seize opportunities, challenges, make mistakes and learn from them. And that was disrupted,” Ms. Dober says.
But it wasn’t all bad.
“It gave me time and I appreciate that,” said one teenager.
“COVID let me know that it’s okay to work on myself and at the end of the day it’s only me that matters,” another told King.
They don’t feel ready to leave school
Freshman college staff see graduates who can’t do an assignment without having to write comments, don’t know how to study independently, and arrive late for morning class because they were counting on an alarm, not on mom to wake them up.
“We have to teach them independence slowly,” King says.
In an effort to help young women succeed in school, parents and teachers limit their independence.
“My parents don’t let me do anything independently, which is frustrating because I don’t have the skills I need to survive in the adult world,” said one young woman.
“My mom is a helicopter parent for sure. She treats me like a kid even though I’m going to college next year,” another said.
Ms Dober says the “breaking and mending” that happens in real-life experiences is important and parents need to give their daughters the skills to deal with it.
King says it’s important for parents to see failure as the first step to success.
Friendship is difficult, even at 16, 17 and 18
The introduction of parties and the push for independence often causes big splits in friendship groups that have been together for years, and COVID hasn’t helped.
“During the shutdowns, it couldn’t be organic; they had to look for that connection and a lot of them gave up,” King says.
“I was able to break away from toxic groups of friends and find a place where I’m happier to finish my 12th year,” one teenager told Madonna.
“I came back to an old group of friends who better share my values.”
They want your help, but they don’t want to be like you
The younger generation sees success in different ways, and wealth is not one of them.
“They want to find purpose. They want to find their place more than anything. They don’t want the one job forever like their parents might have had,” King said.
She says their parents’ generation may have worked late because the boss was always around or offered to come over on weekends. This generation is not interested in that.
“They see work as part of their life, not something that consumes them all.”
“It’s not about making lots of money, cars or houses. It’s more about achieving your own goals and doing what you want to make yourself happy,” said one young woman.
At 13, they might be less likely to seek out mom or dad. Now, at 16 or 17, they want you to listen in an open and non-judgmental way.
“They’re becoming adults, so they see their parents as adults now…a valuable source of information,” Ms. Dober says.
King says parents need to make sure teens know they can come see them anytime and that they will listen.
* L Platers: How to Support Your Teenage Daughter on Her Way to Adulthood, by Madonna King, is out now.
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