It seems that just in time for a new school year and a new chapter of my life (if you’ll forgive how overly sentimental that sounds), I’ve been met with the news that my fellow teenage girls are lacking in confidence and becoming increasingly unhappy.
An NHS report published on Friday said more than one quarter of women aged between 16 and 24 are suffering from symptoms of common mental health problems. I’m only calling it news, though, because newspapers/websites are reporting it (although to be fair, this is because there have been new surveys and studies that have given us updated numbers) since – in my opinion at least – this is old news.
I’ve experienced the drop in confidence once I became a tween and then a teen and I noticed it in virtually all of my female friends as well.
A Girlguiding study recently found that whilst 63% of seven to ten-year-old girls feel confident in themselves, only 31% of seventeen to twenty one-year-olds feel that way. Clearly something is going wrong for girls between the ages of ten and seventeen.
Maybe it’s the fact that the media’s lies about our bodies finally begin to sink in, or maybe it’s the rise of social media and celebrity culture that is constantly putting pressure on us to look ‘good’ – whatever ‘good’ may be – at all times (although I don’t want to sound like I am condemning all technology as I appreciate the benefits it brings us).
Perhaps it’s the strain of school, in which we feel we have to prove that we are as capable as our fellow male students (who tend not to do as well, proving that ‘education’ is damaging to them too) and be good at most everything – although where this idea comes from I do not know (maybe it stems from the idea that girls have in recent history been seen as less intelligent or the depictions of so-called “perfect” women in the media).
Whatever the cause may be for this decline in confidence, it certainly doesn’t help us later on in life when we enter the world of work and have to fight to get jobs (because it is all one huge competition).
So how do we boost our confidence? Obviously we can’t blame ourselves– if around 69% of us don’t feel secure in ourselves then there is clearly a wider problem that needs to be addressed.
And what about after you get a job? The same study also found that a mere 35% of seventeen to twenty one year olds felt that they had an equal chance of succeeding compared to their male colleagues whereas 90% of nine and ten year old girls believed they did. Is that due to growing awareness of sexism at work?
On the one hand, that just puts more pressure on girls to do better when they already have enough just dealing with exams and so on and that undermines confidence. But on the other it may lead them to push for change.
More and more girls are doing well – I’ve noticed that the most academically able people in my classes have more often than not been the girls. So why shouldn’t they be confident about their chances in the world of work?
At school the main message is to do well in exams, but that part has already been understood (they do work it into us from almost the minute we begin secondary school) and it’s clearly not enough.
Maybe they need to look more at the effects this has on young girls and at how the wider world we live in is making them unhappy and anxious – if being confident is fundamentally about being happy in your own skin, then maybe we should help teenage girls to feel that way.