teens

Picture a classroom full of fifteen-year-old girls. How many of them are secretly struggling?

Picture a classroom full of fifteen-year-old girls. Like any group of young people, some are noisy and some are quiet. But compared with us at their age, they are amazingly confident and can speak their mind on any subject. They’ve grown up in the sunshine of a century of feminism, and it shows. They seem ready to ‘take on the world’.

But… meet with any of these girls on their own – as a counsellor might do – and below the cheerful exterior, there are problems. Lots of problems, in fact.

Three or four of these girls, if they trusted you, might roll up their sleeves and show you cuts or scratches on their arms, where in times of great stress they seek relief by hurting themselves. Three or four in that classroom will be in the early stages of an eating disorder – most commonly bulimia. In fact, almost half the girls will be unhappy with their body shape and be dieting to try and change it.

Four or five of the girls will be sexually active. They will tell you though, that they don’t enjoy sex, but they do it because it pleases the boys, and that it’s simply what a girl has to do to be interesting and special.

A shocking one in five of the girls will be on anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication. Without this help, they would sometimes be barely able to leave their bedrooms to face the world. Some of these girls will be the most high achieving in the group.

"Three or four of these girls, if they trusted you, might roll up their sleeves and show you cuts or scratches on their arms." (Image: iStock)
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We haven’t even mentioned the girls who are the victims, or the perpetrators, of bullying. Or those involved in binge drinking. Dr Tina Lam, an expert on teenage drinking whom I interviewed for this book, told me of a strange divide: that while most girls were drinking less, a small group were headed in the opposite direction, having around 14 drinks in a single night, and a frightening number of those were ending up in emergency rooms each weekend.

This, according to hundreds of studies and surveys across the Western world, and counsellors and parents I have spoken to, is modern girlhood. Some girls are going well, but far too many are in a lot of pain. You have to ask yourself: what on earth has gone wrong?

The answer is that somehow, in the last twenty years, childhood and adolescence has changed. It’s more lonely, more pressured, and more unkind. On the one hand, there is pressure from advertising, TV and social media to be cool and amazing, and pressure from parents and school to be successful. And at the same time the friendly support and availability of adults who love them has been reduced.

Listen: Laura, Tiff and Jessie discuss whether teen drama, 13 Reasons Why is helpful or dangerous in the way it deals with adolescent issues (post continues after audio...)

Their world is inhumanly busy – time spent in nature, time for affection, time to dream, time to create and be themselves has been stripped away. We’ve done this to our daughters, unwittingly, but relentlessly, and now we are seeing the results.

These are precious young lives and we have to take action to help them. No amount of talk about ‘resilience’ will address this, as the problem is not inside the girls. We just haven’t given them what they need.

As you’ll find in these pages, we know how to raise girls who are strong and free. It begins when they are little, powers up during school age, and rockets right into their teens and young adulthood. From Chapter 1, this book is positive, and practical.

Your girl will most likely be fine because you care enough to be reading this, but many of her friends, your nieces and grandchildren, and millions of other girls need things to change as well. If you find this compelling, then please spread the messages in this book, and do all you can to help.

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Now, let’s begin.

Here are the 10 Things Girls Need Most:

To be loved and cared for

To be encouraged to be wild and free

To be close to others

To find a special passion or interest

To be cherished by a father

To learn to be strong

To be part of the collective effort to set all women free

To have a happy and powerful sexuality

To have wise women who help her become an adult.

And the tenth one is part of all nine that came before. Each one takes us to the heart of life as a human being, as part of the community of all beings, and weaves us into the dance. A girl who receives all these amazing blessings vibrates with a happy, connected, sense of joy. She is neither crushed by selfconsciousness or imprisoned by self-importance. She is delightfully lost in being alive, doing her part and celebrating her moment in the sun. She will have arrived at her true potential.

This is an extract from Steve Biddulph’s new book, 10 Things Girls Need Most ($29.99, Finch Publishing) which is available nationally in bookshops and online.

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