Teen suicide – too much pressure on our teenagers

A precious fifteen year old girl tried to take her life today.  The number of pills tell us this was no ‘cry for help’, she meant it; for those hours leading up to her suicide attempt she must have felt that she could no longer bear to live.  100,000 adolescents take their lives every year.  Suicide is a leading cause of death in teens.  What is making life so painful for our young people?

Copyright - Sasin Tipchai

Teenage girls are under a lot of pressure.  The degree to which they are running into mental health difficulties suggest that it is worse for them than it was for us when we were their age.  More girls are cutting themselves, starving themselves, stuffing themselves, drinking too much, having undesirable sex, and attempting suicide.

Girls often internalize their worries
- rather than thinking there is something wrong with the world,
they think there must be something wrong with me.

Girls feel immense pressure to do well at school, and to be popular, and to look great.

School:  Gone are the childhoods where children are encouraged to explore and question and dream.  Instead we channel children from a very young age, to follow a prescribed curriculum that has nothing to do with their individual talents or interests.  Then we test them on what we have decided they need to know, as if life success depends on being able to differentiate quadratic equations, or explain tectonic plate movements, or decline the French verb être.  We rank them by their grade, which is never good enough – there is always pressure to do better.  Then they hear in the news that there is still no guarantee of a job at the end, and further training leads to student debt, and many young adults get stuck living at home with their parents.  We are not educating our young people for what lies ahead.

Popularity:  Teenagers orient themselves strongly towards their peers – at some level knowing that they are moving towards a time when they will be leaving their parents and siblings, and making their own way in the world.  With the internet there can be no downtime, no excuse to be unavailable.  With Facebook, Snapchat, Ask.fm, What’sApp and many more, friends are forever awaiting a response – it cannot be put down.  And your popularity is there for all to see – how many friends, likes, tweets, messages do you have?

Body Image:  We surround our girls with images of idealized female perfection.  Teens become more conscious of their bodies as they enter a period of rapid physical change.  Just as they become more curvaceous, and hair is growing in new places, and they are contending with spots, greasy hair, and mood swings, they are bombarded with messages that they must work to get their bodies looking a certain way.  Hair must be removed, coloured, straightened, styled.  Skin must be clear, tanned, soft.  Tummies flat, hips narrow, thigh gap, waist trim, legs long.  With images now digitally altered, girls strive for a female beauty that is impossible to attain.

How do we protect girls from these pressures?  Or strengthen them to withstand them?

There are no simple or swift answers.  We need our teens to have a strong sense of self-worth and inner confidence, exactly at a stage when their confidence is often wobbling.  They need our love and understanding right at a time when their behaviour might be harder to love or to understand.  Think of small, daily ways in which you can help your teenager to feel your love and acceptance.  Ask yourself how you can encourage them to question and challenge the accepted norms.  Don’t wait, do it now, whatever your daughter’s age.  Help your daughter to know that good qualifications are not paramount, many friends are not better than a select few really good friendships, and beauty is not found on the weighing scales or in the dressing room.  Notice what you do in everyday life which gives credence to these beliefs.

Parenting a teenager can be a challenge, so get the support that you need.

Our girls need more than just us too.  Call in the support of your friends, their friend’s mothers, aunties, older cousins, favoured grandparents, godparents, neighbours, trusted teachers, anyone who would be willing to share their time, wisdom and support.  Building inner confidence takes time and comes with age.  Teens need older women to befriend them, to mentor them in a time when they may not want to turn to their parents, but still need adult guidance.   We all need people who care.

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And to my fifteen year old friend, I want to tell you:

I am so immeasurably glad that you are still alive. And I am so sorry that life became too much to bear that day.  And I want you to know that I want to do anything that I can to help you on days like that, or any other day.  But I also know how hard it is to reach out, especially when feeling low; so I hope that you can find a range of things, and people, that help you to survive the times when it all feels unbearable.

You are a sensitive, bright, sparky, funny, wise, sensitive, insightful, generous, strong-willed, smart, sensitive person.  I want you to live.  I want you to feel like you want to live.  With my heartfelt love, Kim

 

Photo: 123RF by Sasin Tipchai
Posted on 7 April 2014
Musings: Parenting girls, Parenting teenagers
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Teenage brains aren’t crazy

They just seem that way.

Teenage brains go through a crazy phase.  Adolescence is a time of profound brain growth and change.  They don’t think like us, nor how they did when they were younger.  Earlier connections in the brain are being broken and new ones formed.  The teenage brain is under major reconstruction – as the brain begins teeming with hormones, the prefrontal cortex, the center of reasoning and impulse control, is very much a work in progress making adolescence a time of roller-coaster emotions and ‘interesting’ judgment.

When our children are little they learn by copying.  They mimic what they see and hear, act out in play what they witness, and practice the behaviour they observe in those around them.  However, as they approach adolescence they enter a time of self-discovery and to do this they need to break away and try things out their own way.  This may be a challenge for their parents but it is essential for the healthy development of a young adult.

This often proves tricky for parents.  Up until now our job has been to model good behaviour and to guide our children towards adopting honourable behaviour.  Then all of a sudden our job description changes and we need to step back, observe and support while our teens try out other ways – often the opposite of our way.  It is not rebellion.  It is nature’s way and it enables our young people on their journey towards becoming someone – themselves.

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See how you can let your teen know that you are behind them -
even when they don’t seem to know what they’re doing or why and neither do you!

Photo: 123RF by colorvalley
Posted on 26 March 2014
Musings: Parenting girls
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Average size

Thumbs up to Debenhams, the first department store in Britain to display mannequins our size.

Jo Swinson   Photograph: Debenhams

Most other shops use size 8 or size 10 because we all want to see how clothes look on women who are three sizes smaller than us, don’t we?

 

Many teen girls struggle as the hormones of puberty give fullness to their hips and a roundness to their belly.  This struggle is made worse by the changing room battle, wishing to fit the stereotype of female perfection – no hips, flat belly, long legs, and now we have the aspiration of the thigh gap.

There are many different ways of countering the damaging effects of impossible cultural ideals for womanhood – more realistic mannequins is one.

Posted on 12 March 2014
Musings: Parenting girls
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You want your daughter to stand up for herself?

Yes!  Well… mostly you do, as long as it doesn’t mean that she refuses to tidy her room!

Seriously though, we want our girls to be able to say ‘No’ when they need to, to believe in themselves, and go for what they really want in life.

This is not easy for them though, despite how well they seem to do this at home, particularly in their teens!

Girls experience a lot of pressure to please.  As parents we have the challenge of raising girls who think for themselves, who listen to themselves, and who have the courage to do what is ‘right for her’, despite conflicting influences – from friends, teachers, parents, society…

So whilst is may be tempting to want your daughter to do as you say and follow your good advice, really what you want is a daughter who does what she thinks is right for her.

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What role models does your daughter have?

Is she surrounded by women who know who they are, and who live according to the values that are important to them?

Is her mother one of these women – because you are one of her most powerful role models?

The most effective way of raising a girl who will stand up for herself is for her to see you standing up for yourself.  Are you?

Photo: 123RF by Vladimir Voronin
Posted on 5 March 2014
Musings: Parenting girls, Parenting teenagers
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‘The Sex Talk’ – when to have it?

Never!
Never, ever have ‘The Talk’.  No, instead have a conversation that starts in the toddler years and spans her entire childhood, well into her teens.

It is impossible to predict what your child will need to know, and when, so open the possibility for conversation whenever the topic naturally arises.  This way she knows that you are happy to talk about bodies and babies, and she can come to you with her questions.  Be guided by her questions.  I tend to err on the side of saying less than I might, and pausing to see if this prompts further enquiry, that way I’m not telling her more than she is ready to hear.

Nakhorn Yuangkratoke

Some parents worry that talking about sex will encourage their child to try things sooner.  In fact, research indicates that talking to children about sexual matters is positively related to delaying their first sexual experience; and it’s a conversation that is so much more comfortable if it is started in her early years.  You will certainly want to have opened up the lines of communication before she starts school as this is your best defence against misinformation that may come from peers or elsewhere.

You will also want her to be prepared for puberty when it comes, so that means beginning to talk to her of breasts and bleeding by the time she is eight.  It is not uncommon for girls to begin puberty as young as eight, and if not your daughter, then other girls in her peer group.

Hopefully your daughter will feel comfortable to ask you about what she wants to know.   However, many mothers who were never able to discuss such things easily with their mothers now feel ill-equipped to have such conversations with their own daughters.  To help you, this website has guidance pages, and tap into the many resources for parents, or those produced directly for children.  Talking with other parents can be supportive too.

I am surprised by how often girls know too little .

Make sure your daughter knows everything that she needs to.

Photo: 123RF by Nakhorn-Yuangkratoke
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Posted on 27 February 2014
Musings: Parenting girls
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