Our teenage girls need role models more than ever – here’s why…

Jane KenyonI cannot tell you how many conversations I have with women in a typical week about their concerns surrounding their teenage daughters/nieces/sisters, etc. We seem to be bemused by their obsession with appearance over substance; their apparent addiction to social media and why they all want to look the same – like some pumped up porn Barbie!!

Well I thought it was time I put some data to all of this so here is some of the latest research relating to teenage girls. Take a deep breath,…..

1. 47% of teenage girls feel the pressure to look attractive is a disadvantage to being a girl. This figure rises to 76% for 15/16 year olds. This effects self esteem, alienates girls who dare to be different and has a huge impact on aspirations.
2. By the age of 12 over 50% of all girls in the classroom will be monitoring their food intake in some way. Many will be actually dieting, starving themselves or using other stimulants to fight off hunger.
3. 1 in 4 teenage girls will self-harm in some way before they leave school. This is often a symptom of point one but can also be family stress, exam anxiety or boyfriend issues.
4. 5% of girls aged 12-17 are now prescribed anti-depressants.
5. There has been a 12% rise in under 16 year-olds with drink related problems. Six children a day will be admitted to hospital with drink related issues. Binge drinking is more prevalent amongst girls and 25% of girls 15-16 admit to binge drinking at least once a week.
6. Boys as young at 11 are now addicted to internet porn. This has a negative effect on girls as expectations on how to look and what constitutes normal sex are warped.
7. Girls are now three times more likely than boys to suffer with depression and anxiety attacks.
8. Grooming and sexual exploitation is now commonplace in most towns and girls are now initiated and forced to be active in recruiting.
9. The issues around early sexualisation and the internet just keep getting worse and worse. Latest trend, ‘sexting’, involves girls sending nude/semi nude pics of self to boys then the boys forwarding on. Girls are under a lot of pressure to do this to be perceived as normal.

My work with Girls Out Loud takes me into schools every week and here is what I see in every classroom of girls and I mean EVERY CLASSROOM, the location or the status of the school is irrelevant…..

Low confidence, low self esteem and low aspirations.

Girls getting validation from the way they look, not who they are or what they are capable of.

Confused identity as girls struggle to process overtly sexual imagery, airbrushed celebrities and widespread porn.

Girls choosing safe career options (nursery nurse, teacher) or none at all, due to lack of positive role models. You don’t know, what you don’t know!

Low self respect as poor cues on what is and is not acceptable sexual behaviour, compounded by poor sex education, the media onslaught, reality TV and the internet.

Girls becoming more predatory and aggressive. This is misplaced confidence, copying pop videos, dressing like hookers and generally attracting attention they are not sure what to do with.

SO WHAT DO WE DO….

In my opinion the first thing we all need to do is take some responsibility for the current situation. It is all too easy to step back and blame a diverse range of external factors for why our girls are lost.
Here’s some food for thought:

1. The UK now spends £2 billion a year on cosmetic surgery procedures. Well over 90% of customers are female.
2. Three quarters of British women are unhappy with their body shape.
3. In a recent survey six out of ten women said their body image made them depressed.
4. For UK brides looking good on their wedding day has become an obsession. British brides now spend more money on cosmetic procedures for the day than they do on their wedding dress!
5. Pole dancing is now available as an acceptable workout in most UK towns and thousands of women are flocking to the classes.

Need I say more? Young girls will copy what we do, not what we say. When we start valuing our natural beauty, falling in love with ourselves and behaving in an authentic way, so will they. Our position as role models has never been more important. So how are you showing up?

Jane Kenyon is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.

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