I relish my five-year-old daughter’s sparkling confidence. When she preens in the mirror in a comically mismatched outfit, she celebrates herself exactly as she is — and not through the lens of an appearance-obsessed culture. She raises her voice without fear. But watching her twirl around the kitchen, I am sometimes filled with dread. I know the developmental storm looming on her horizon. I know that now is the best time to take steps to raise a confident daughter.
According to researchers studying adolescents, this is the unhappiest, loneliest and most stressed out generation on record — and it’s girls who are struggling the most. Depressive symptoms in teen girls increased by 50 percent between 2012 and 2015, at more than twice the rate of boys, per the Monitoring the Future survey. Last year, the Girls’ Index, a national survey of 12,000 fifth- through twelfth-grade girls, found that the number of girls who describe themselves as “confident” declines more than 25 percent throughout middle school (African-American girls are a significant exception).
But aren’t girls the ones crushing boys at school? The ones going to college in greater numbers? Didn’t we just hear that parents might not even prefer sons anymore?
Yes, but. All that girl power seems to have come at a cost. For too many girls today, the drive to succeed is fueled by intense self-criticism and fear that they will fail. Our girls may look exceptional on paper but they are often anxious and overwhelmed in life. Many feel that no matter how hard they try, they will never be smart enough, successful enough, pretty enough, thin enough, well liked enough, witty enough online, or sexy enough. And it starts young.