How can we help teen girls?

(68 Posts)
almondcakes Tue 28-Apr-15 12:21:39

This is in a way a thread about three threads.

It has been in the news that there has been a rise in the risk of girls developing mental health problems, and only girls, which there has been a thread about.

There has also been a news story about how young people's mental health services are struggling to cope, and how youth services are usually about helping kids with anti social behaviour and exclusion rather than picking up on kids with emotional issues more generally. I'm pretty sure people will be familar with the school version of this where research shows teachers spend more of their time on boys than girls, often due to managing behaviour.

Yesterday there was a thread about girls posting on social media about self harm and coming out, which many posters considered to be attention seeking. I find this very worrying, as having worked with young people who self harm, it rarely is attention seeking, and it is not classed alone as a mental health issue. So it is quite ordinary for it to be an issue with which someone needs support, without requiring them to have a mental health diagnosis for it to be taken seriously.

Today there is a thread about if all teen girls are dramatic. While I appreciate mothers should not have to deal with this alone, if girls are seen as too dramatic towards their mothers, too attention seeking on social media, and second place to boys for attention in schools and the youth service, what are they supposed to do? Where do they get support with their own mental health or being in a peer group and supporting female peers who increasingly frequently have mental health or other issues?

What can we do as parents or as a society? Is this covered by an MN campaign and, if not, should it be?

BuffyBreaks Tue 28-Apr-15 12:32:23

I don't know. sad

I think a campaign is a wonderful idea though. I might be able to link up with academics doing research in this area, I know people doing stuff on young people and body image for example.

almondcakes Tue 28-Apr-15 12:42:58

I was wondering about the academic side of it Buffy. I'd just been to look at a chapter in a book about the amount of time spent on boys. The author was saying it isn't just the amount of time, it is the manner in which teachers respond to laddish behaviour by treating it as enjoyable even when disciplining it, and that is part of the way the teacher constructs their own gender role and projects who they are in the classroom. They then distance themselves from quieter more conforming pupils, thereby encouraging pupils not to be that way. It sounds like the kind of thing your research is good at uncovering, rather than a more quantitative method.

I do think we all (and I include myself) may be responding to girls and younger women by distancing ourselves from them for being too quiet, too attention seeking, even both at the same time, or by claiming they articulate their experiences in the wrong way.

BuffyBreaks Tue 28-Apr-15 12:54:31

In a public health context, my overall impression is that when girls have body image or mental health problems related to female stuff (technical term smile) this is treated with concern, but also with a sort of inevitability. But when boys start to struggle with similar sorts of things, it is treated with great surprise and also concern. Almost like well, we expected girls to do this, but now boys are doing it, we're really worried.

I am currently writing up some research in a particular public health context (I won't say which as this will certainly out me) where I am having this impression reinforced as I write a summary of previous research. It is a subtle thing, there is certainly genuine concern over young women's problems, but it seems to me qualitatively different to the concern about young men's problems.

In my research, for example, I found out something unexpected and worrying about young teenage boys' behaviour and I feel pretty certain that when I've finished writing it and submit for publication it will get more attention than it would if I'd found that girls do it but not boys. Partly a novelty thing, like Cordelia Fine says. But there's partly an expectation, as I say, that girls will struggle with it and that's just 'cause they're girls and that's what girls do.

I really don't know if that makes sense! grin I am happy to tell you more in private, but don't want identifying info in public.

almondcakes Tue 28-Apr-15 13:05:06

I feel that feeds into the idea that other girls are supposed to just be able to handle it. If your friend is experiencing XYZ, you should just be able to help them, with no support for you in taking on that caring role. It seems like the teenage equivalent of adult women's caring work. We expect girls to be naturally good at coping with everyone else's problems.

My response to you saying boys are experiencing X is will girls have to now take up even less space with their experience with X, and will girls be blamed for not helping the boys with X? Because while I know that isn't how you would respond to it, I know many others will.

Dervel Tue 28-Apr-15 13:05:34

Just out of interest what precisely is "attention seeking", and why is it a negative thing in this context?

almondcakes Tue 28-Apr-15 13:10:17

I feel it would be unfair for me to link to the thread Dervel. It is the idea that girls posting about being bi or a lesbian are really straight and just trying to get attention on social media or at school, and that self harming or mentioning self harm is done as part of an 'image' for attention.

BuffyBreaks Tue 28-Apr-15 13:16:38

I think it links to some of the ideas Jeanne has blogged about, with regard to how females are regarded as unreliable witnesses. Whereas when males say, to bring it into this context, that they're gay, or harm themselves, straight away this is taken seriously.

In the specific context of what I found and am currently writing up, I don't think girls risk being subtly blamed. I do think that funding for research and intervention might be diverted from one group that's had relatively more to another group that's had relatively little. I'd have to think about whether that would represent a material disadvantage to the first group, because we do already know quite a bit about the issue from their perspective. But obviously, funding is a finite resource that is distributed.

HapShawl Tue 28-Apr-15 13:36:02

i was one of those teenage girls with significant emotional problems, but 15 years ago so i don't know whether the causes are different or the same or different manifestations of the same iyswim. i don't have any answers, but i do remember that there were a couple of times when adults in my life tried to "help" but they didn't actually involve me or consult me or anything in terms of their actions to help me, and this made things worse. i know that people don't always "know what is best for them" but the way it was done was so overwhelming, the lack of control and understanding of what was happening and going to happen from my POV was terrifying, and i lost all trust for adults who should have been able to help me. i don't know what i'm trying to say here really

i agree that emotional problems are often seen as a fact of life for girls and women (in the same way as gynaecological problems are often dismissed as "part of being a woman" i believe)

BuffyBreaks Tue 28-Apr-15 13:36:13

Here's Jeanne's post.

She says "Women’s speech is always, in some sense, birdspeech, always, by virtue of gender, sub-human, Other. It requires interpretation before we know what it means, and it places us on the margins of the main discourse."

Seems this pattern is being replicated when it comes to young women's experiences of their sexuality and self harm being taken seriously, too.

HapShawl Tue 28-Apr-15 13:41:27

it's all those things people say about teenage girls, isn't it?

manipulative
attention-seeking
over-dramatic
cruel (to other girls)
shallow
oversensitive

all can be used to dismiss manifestations of real problems

BuffyBreaks Tue 28-Apr-15 13:44:28

Yes, and overly focused on appearance (which relates to the thing I am currently writing up).

SanityClause Tue 28-Apr-15 13:47:35

Dervel, that point was made by many on the thread.

The OP stated she found the coming out and self-harm claims made by some teenage girls on social media to be "hilarious". hmm

Many posters disagreed with her (most, actually, I think). She did later apologise for the use of the word hilarious.

almondcakes Tue 28-Apr-15 13:47:57

HapShawl, yes, I think that is central to it. That we have to listen to girls on their own terms so they can have some control over their own experiences.

HapShawl Tue 28-Apr-15 13:52:53

yes agree re "overly focused on appearance", and thanks almondcakes for articulating what i was trying to say there!

BuffyBreaks Tue 28-Apr-15 13:55:47

What particularly irks me about the whole being focused on appearance thing, is the role of gendered assumptions about women being valuable primarily for appearance seem very underplayed. Like women and girls are so silly and frivolous for caring about it, when it's all that society seems to want from us anyway.

And even when they're acknowledged, say for example the influence of magazines or something, the conclusion is we must equip girls with the tools not to be so influenced. Not, say, do something about the fucking source of the problem! angry

BuffyBreaks Tue 28-Apr-15 13:56:22

So,

<rolls up sleeves>

What are we going to do?

SanityClause Tue 28-Apr-15 13:59:02

I think that teenage girls are often expected to be "grown up". They "mature faster than boys", apparently. Society sees their womanly bodies, and expects them to have an emotional maturity to match.

But they are not adults, they are children. And when a child exhibits attention-seeking behaviour, our reaction should be to give them the attention they crave. But for teenagers this often doesn't happen.

I was very upset by yesterday's sneery thread. I haven't seen today's. I must say, DD1 was very dramatic this morning. It was hard on me. But I am an adult, not a not-quite-16yo who has GCSE course work, exams etc all on top of her, at the same time as friendship traumas, boyfriend traumas, and some very disturbing other things going on. So I can forgive the drama, frankly.

HapShawl Tue 28-Apr-15 14:00:43

"What particularly irks me about the whole being focused on appearance thing, is the role of gendered assumptions about women being valuable primarily for appearance seem very underplayed. Like women and girls are so silly and frivolous for caring about it, when it's all that society seems to want from us anyway."

yes exactly this. it's another of those gaslighty things - you will be judged on your appearance but if you care about that then you're silly and easily influenced

almondcakes Tue 28-Apr-15 14:05:09

I would like it to be an MN campaign. I am not familiar with how we go about asking them or what it entails.

I would like there to be some particular charities we could support, perhaps ones that goes into school and offers advice, or one advocating for more resources for girls.

I'd like there to be something similar to 'this is my child' but for mental health and other issues that have an impact on teenage girls, so that people can be aware that the self harming girl, or girl with anxiety is potentially someone on here's child or that was the girlhood of someone on here.

didyouwritethe Tue 28-Apr-15 14:06:14

My dds and their friends find it helpful to talk openly about feminism at school and socially, and to challenge sexism where they see it - being supportive of one another in doing so, obviously.

SanityClause Tue 28-Apr-15 14:07:21

Another thing.

I was driving with DD2 (14) in the car the other day, and that Kid Rock(?) Sweet Home Alabama song came on, and I had to switch it off. She asked why, and it's because of the lyrics which refer to him being 17, "somewhere between a boy and man". His girlfriend, of the same age, is described as "nothing in between", implying she was all woman, and in no part a girl. Why does he get the benefit of being not quite grown up, but she does not?

didyouwritethe Tue 28-Apr-15 14:08:44

Educating girls to understand the economic and political context in which they live is also key.

didyouwritethe Tue 28-Apr-15 14:11:55

Almond, what you may be talking about is a campaign for better PSHE in schools. Although that wouldn't cover what I said.

BuffyBreaks Tue 28-Apr-15 14:13:51

I don't know if there's a charity that works specifically with teenage girls on these sorts of issues. We need to look into that. Something that struck me as a useful source of inspiration perhaps is something like Bit White Wall which I thought was focused on helping the military with mental health issues, but it seems to have expanded its scope since I last looked.

My opinion is that rather than looking to specific issues (mental health, self harm, sexuality) the fulcrum should be teenage girls: listening to them, believing them, respecting them etc. I don't know if there is a charity that works on those principles.

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