Girls Feel Pressure to Grow Up Too Fast, Study Says

Girls Feel Anxiety about Pressure to Fast-Track Their Development

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Between the magazine articles telling girls to lose weight, glossies telling her that she’ll never measure up , young celebrities withering away along with their clothes, models getting thinner and thinner, and the massive pressures in school and among friends to look the best, a generation of girls are being affected. Poor body image, poor body esteem, mental health issues, and low self worth abound.

Negative messages are everywhere. Even our daughter’s clothes and favorite dolls and toys are getting a boost, a lift, a pout, and a “push” to grow up sooner and sexier than ever before. Some, you just have to wonder, are the retailers kidding?

So who could be surprised that girls are showing some wear and tear from today’s sexualized, body-bashing culture? A recent study out of the UK reveals that the pressure to grow up too soon is one the greatest influences on girls’ well being, according to the girls themselves! The pressure to wear clothes that make them look older, entertain sexual advances from boys, lose weight according to the directions in the media, and even consider plastic surgery to “improve looks” were identified as pressures that were particularly damaging.

One participant explained: “When I was eleven I read a teenage magazine for the first time and that is when it kind of clicked, ‘I should be like this.’”

Here’s the scoop:

Who was studied? Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. Qualitative (descriptive) information was collected through focus groups consisting of 54 girls, divided by age. Quantitative (the numbers and percents) data were collected through polls online, in which 350 girls participated.

By Whom: Girlguiding UK, the Mental Health Foundation, and leading researchers Opinion Leader.

What was studied? The report considers a new generation of potential triggers for mental health problems in girls – premature sexualization, commercialization and alcohol misuse – and also some of the more longstanding issues like bullying and family breakdown. It examines the impact of such factors on girls’ feelings and behavior at home and in their communities, and asks young women themselves what might be done to help.

What did they find?

§ Mental Health Issues: Many girls reported that they had direct experience with friends and people who they knew who were suffering from some kind of mental health problem.

o Two-fifths know someone who has self-harmed

o One third of the girls have a friend who has suffered from an eating disorder

o Half new girls who were suffering from depression

o Almost two in five had friends who had experienced panic attacks.

o Many girls felt strongly that self-harm was within the spectrum of normal teenage behavior – as long as it happened infrequently– and was not necessarily an indication of a mental health issue.

o A sixth of those surveyed often feel angry

o Half admit they find anger hard to manage.

o Around a quarter often worry (28%) and feel like no-one understands them (25%) while around half find both emotions hard to handle.

§ Gotta Have It! Increased pressure to have money for the latest electronics and clothes means pressure for the girls.

o One-in-five girls report feeling anger and sadness

o A quarter of the girls feel worried or bad about themselves.

§ Fodder for Bullies? Girls felt that the growing check-list of “ideals” for young girls was giving bullies additional excuses to single them out – leading to stress, unhappiness and anxiety.

As one girl admitted: “If I get bored then I start becoming really aggressive.”

§ Is my body OK? Media is a major culprit.

o Looking at pictures of models, pop-stars and actresses makes a fifth feel sad, two-fifths feel bad about themselves and 12 per cent feel angry.

o Media stories that portray young people in a bad light make half the girls who took part angry (50 per cent), a quarter worried (23 per cent) and almost two-fifths sad.

· Read the full study: A Generation Under Stress

Study after study is showing that girls are under stress…and duress in their normal, everyday lives. Yet, our culture continues to churn out manufactured, thinned-out celebrities, sexualized play-things, inappropriate clothes, and media to deliver the 1-2 punch.

Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we provide our girls with positive role models, positive body messages, and positive activities and powerful environments that show them they are so much more than a 2-dimensional object there to be critiqued, criticized, and put-down.

What are your thoughts on this recent study? Any ideas with regard to what to do next? Yes, we need these girls to have a pivotal moment when they know they’re worthwhile—but even more than that—we need to promote positive development in these girls from the start so that this problem is markedly reduced in the first place. Otherwise, we are simply averting our eyes…aren’t we? I mean, how bad does it have to get before we pay attention?

Here’s to Making Our Girls Feel and Become Powerful–

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16 Responses

  1. Great post Dr Robyn. Found a great doll alternative for girls: The Only Hearts Club: “Real cool girls, just like you.”

    http://www.onlyheartsclub.com/pages/meet_girls.html

    I liked this blurb from the company’s founder:

    “They (parents) tell us repeatedly that in this day and age, with so many questionable images bombarding their girls, they are ecstatic that our girls look and dress like young girls, and deliver a positive message. It’s wonderful to be able to emphasize all of the good things about being a young girl, growing up, and being nice to others.” —Len Simonian, President, Only Hearts Club™

    Bravo!

  2. Thanks for the tip, Danni! Like night and day between these dolls and “bratz.” I can certainly see why parents would like them– I wonder if the girls would like them as well given that they aren’t as “glamorous” as some of the others. The positive message is wonderful and we applaud retailers who understand the importance of slowing down and allowing girls to grow up at their own pace.

    Dr. Robyn

  3. The Beautiful Women Project advocates that it is the sum of a woman’s life experiences that make her beautiful. The thirty five women of The Beautful Women Project are role models for us all – they are beautiful because of the manner in which they have met their challenges and carry their experiences. We all have beautiful women in our lives – they are the mothers, teachers, daughters, friends, and neighbors that are around us all everyday. It is important to take the time to celebrate the beauty that lies within us all and explore the beauty that surrounds us all.

  4. Thank you, Nancy. We all need role models in our lives who show us that we are so much more than a sum of our parts.

    Please come back soon and share your insights.

    Dr. Robyn

  5. […] Girls Feel Pressure to Grow Up Too Fast, Study Says […]

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  8. […] sure that it’s where I should put my focus. Do you? I mean, why give the education to the “victims” when it’s really the leaders and bullies that need the social education —I guess I’d […]

  9. […] of girls have been linked with eating disorders, low self esteem, and […]

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  11. […] creeping up again. Why is this happening? As we’ve discussed, girls have admitted that they’re feeling pressure to grow up too soon. Sexual messages abound. While TV and sexual content in teen programs can’t entirely be blamed, […]

  12. […] creeping up again. Why is this happening? As we’ve discussed, girls have admitted that they’re feeling pressure to grow up too soon. Sexual messages abound. While TV and sexual content in teen programs can’t entirely be blamed, […]

  13. […] of confidence in oneself. We must encourage without over-praising, challenge without criticizing or hurrying, and love without comparing. As powerful parents, we are the first and last stop in our […]

  14. […] kids to be exposed to too much TV– we’ve heard it associated with  poor body image and pressure to grow up too fast in previous […]

  15. […] isn’t only a problem because it creates a breeding ground for disordered eating behavior and low self confidence, but also because it can cultivate social problems such as bullying, ostracization, and academic […]

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