Today’s tween and teen girls
“I am seeing more girls presenting with depression, anxiety and self-harm and parents are reporting seeing this more in their daughters,” says Young.
In 2014, Dr William Bor and his colleagues examined whether there were any changes in the mental health of children between the 20th and 21st century.
The most significant finding was the increase in mental health concerns among adolescent girls.
In 2015, the Australian government released its second report on the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents.
Compared to the first report, issued in 1998, the prevalence of major depressive disorders among teenagers increased from 2.9 percent to five percent. For boys, it increased by 1.6 per cent. For girls, it increased by almost 3 percent.
In 2018, a report led by Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute echoed the same warning.
While ‘psychological distress’ in teenagers has consistently risen from 2012 to 2018, girls were twice as likely as boys to experience it.
For girls, the increase was 7.5 percent over the six year period, while boys rose by nearly 3 per cent.
This year, the AIHW found that girls, between ten and 14 years old, were seven times more likely to be hospitalised for intentional self-harm than boys.
“Girls seem to be more prone to anxiety,” explains Young.
“It doesn’t mean that boys aren’t experiencing anxiety or feeling the stress of the world.
“Boys tend to express themselves in different ways – their response is more external.
“Boys just might not be as open to talking about it as girls.”
How can parents help children be brave?
This generation of parents are the most open to learning and have the most amount of information on how best to parent, which, according to Young, can inadvertently feed into their own anxiety about parenting which could then transfer onto their children.
“I first need to say parents don’t cause anxiety in their children,” she emphasises.
“But we can inadvertently steer our children’s anxiety, which is healthy and normal, in the wrong direction.
“Children look to their parents for signs of safety when they feel unsafe and if parents are constantly worried, either about how they should parent, or how their children should act in certain situations, children can feel unsafe and anxiety catches.”
However, she explains brave behaviour catches too.
“Parents can also steer their children’s anxiety into a more positive direction and give their children the resources to cope when they have big feelings.”
First, Young recommends parents make sure that their children know that parents can handle every feeling children have, no matter how big that feeling feels.
“This message we give our young children translates later on in the teens years as: you can come to us when you have big feelings, we can handle it and we can get through it together,” she says.
Allow children to take safe risks
Another strategy Young recommends to parents is to allow children to take safe risks.
She explains that parents are wired to instinctively protect their children from threatening situations.
The problem is, when parents protect their children from non-threatening experiences, they prevent their children from learning that anxiety doesn’t always mean ‘threat’.
It also stifles important opportunities for children to learn that, despite feeling anxious, they can still do brave things.
Young also recommend parents don’t always put on a brave face.
“If we are always modelling that we are okay all of the time, what happens is that on the days when children don’t feel okay, it doesn’t feel right,” she explains.
“Instead, if we explain that we feel anxious about something, but that we know we can do it, and we know we will be okay, we are teaching our children that we can feel anxious and be brave, we can feel anxious and be okay, we can feel anxious and still do hard things.”
Finally, Young adds that what children need most from parents are safe, secure, loving relationships where they feel brave enough to take safe risks and that parents will be there if they get it wrong.
“Parents will ultimately teach their children that they can do more and more brave things with the world.”