teens

Teen girls are more stressed and anxious than boys. A psychologist shares 4 steps to help.

If you were to ask any parent what they want for their children, they’ll likely list qualities like happiness, confidence, self-respect and positive friendships. As a mother of a son and a daughter I want these things too. Yet in a recent survey of 30,000 young Australians from Skillsroad, it appears that many teens are not reaching our parental aspirations.

In fact, 74 per cent of girls (age 15-24) reported feeling levels of stress, sadness or anxiety in the last 12 months which impacted how they study, worked, or lived. This was compared to 54 per cent of boys.

So why are girls not doing so well and what can we do to help?

Parents of teenagers… translated. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

It sends a shiver down my spine when I think of my daughter having negative emotions that impact how she lives her life. Sure, some negative emotions are normal and good for us, but no one wants their children experiencing them at a rate that impacts how they live at home, school or work.

When it comes to how boys and girls differ, girls are more likely than boys to experience depression, anxiety and self-consciousness. While there is some evidence to suggest the influence of genetics and hormones is the reason for this, the way we raise girls and the expectations of society also plays a role.

According to the Skillsroad survey, a particular concern to youth mental health issues is a lack of jobs and housing affordability. As parents, educators and carers, there is a huge opportunity and responsibility to help our girls successfully navigate the stressors they face and equip them with the skills to experience positive mental health, reduce negative emotions and move successfully from school into meaningful work.

If you’re like me and want to see this rate decrease, here are some things you can do.

1. Show, don’t tell.

As a working mum, I understand the hustle and the constant juggle. But despite this, we have a responsibility to show our kids that when problems arise, there is always a solution. And that it’s okay to have a bad day and experience negative emotions. If we want our kids to be active problem solvers with quality relationships, we need to show them how to do this by living and demonstrating this kind of life ourselves.

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2. Find solving strategies, not solutions.

Whether it’s a friendship issue, a relationship problem or even starting work, when things go wrong in our children’s life, it is our parental instinct to want to fix it. But fixing our children’s problems is rife with problems in itself. Firstly, psychologically, when someone tells us to do something, we are far less motivated to stick at it compared to when we see value in owning it autonomously.

Secondly, if we are always rescuing, we are not teaching resilience. Thirdly, we learn resilience through experience. So if you really want to help your child become a problem solver and deal with set-backs, help them identify problem solving strategies, but let them solve the problem.

"Fixing our children’s problems is rife with problems". Image: Getty.

3. Have courageous conversations.

There are hard conversations to be had as a parent/carer. Particularly when it’s about sex, emotions, relationships or drugs. But by making these topics “off the table” or uncomfortable we only prevent education about them and create a sense of secrecy about normal parts of life.

Don’t be afraid to raise these topics, and do it early. Help your children understand rights and responsibilities in relationships, help them validate emotions they might feel and normalise the experiences they will encounter. Be a trusted adviser.

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4. Praise effort, not image or appearance.

Beliefs about our own value are extremely important to how emotionally stable we feel and how we view ourselves. To improve children’s self-esteem and self-acceptance praise effort, not image and appearance. Shift focus away from being skinny to being healthy. Focus less on looking perfect and instead focus on the importance being kind.

When it comes to teaching our girls, or boys for that matter, how to have positive experiences in life, one of the best lessons is that no matter our circumstances we can choose how we show up and how we respond to situations we find ourselves in. With social media use in childhood linked to poorer psychological wellbeing in adolescence, an effect which is stronger in females, it's more important than ever that we support our children to have a healthy sense of their own worth and problem solving skills so they can independently navigate life reaching those goals of happiness, confidence and love we all want for them.

Danielle Buckley is a psychologist with 15 years’ experience, and has a Postgraduate and a Master’s Degree in Psychology. Danielle is an international speaker and researcher, specialising in Positive Psychology. Danielle also runs tailored workshops and retreats for mothers and girls and has an online course ‘Be Your Best Self’ that helps participants discover how to thrive and improve their wellbeing.

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