Helping teenage girls with their mental health

A new book aims to help teenage girls confront the different pressures on them that chip away at their self esteem and well being.

Teenager wearing a blue hoodie looks to camera


Parents of teenage girls will be all too aware of the mental health pressures on them which have been exacerbated by Covid-19. A recent report from University College London Social Research Institute shows more than a quarter of teenage girls have self-harmed by the age of 17. Based on data from 2018/19, it found 28% of girls reported self harming at some point in the year that they were 17, with 10% of that number doing so with an intent to commit suicide. Boys’ mental health is also suffering, but to a lesser extent. The study shows 20% of boys reported self-harming and that 4% of these had self-harmed with suicidal intent.

This generation of teenagers are tomorrow’s workforce so their well being problems are something employers would do well to note. A new book published this month aims to address the issues of girls’ well being. A Girl’s Guide to Being Fearless: How to find your brave by Suzie Lavington and Dr Andy Cope is written as a series of pointers to girls about how to deal with the pressures of teenage life today. The book doesn’t seek to tell girls to stay off the internet or off their phones. Instead, it accepts that these are standard elements of teenage culture. The important thing is to learn to navigate the pitfalls.

The aim of the book is to build girls’ confidence in their ability to confront problems and be happy in their own skins.

The authors say girls often feel stressed because they overestimate the difficulty of a situation and underestimate their ability to deal with it and end up avoiding it. It says courage is something to be aspired to as is a strategy for coping with difficult emotions.  The authors write: “Remember, scared is here to stay. Anxiety is part of life. It’s not your job to extinguish these feelings, it’s your job to develop the resources you need to march forward in spite of the fear.”

An inside job

The book, written in a chatty, friendly style and speaking directly to girls, starts from the point of emphasising their ability to control some of their negative emotions. It stresses that happiness is “an inside job” and can be enhanced through healthy routines, such as getting enough sleep and doing enough exercise.

There is a section on confronting fear – on the importance of challenging yourself and taking action rather than overthinking things. The authors suggest that if you are facing something scary, such as a presentation, envisage ‘doing it for Doris’, an imaginary grandmother figure who is not so intimidating. Visualisation of positive outcomes is also important as is trying to get some sense of perspective, keeping positive and surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good.

There is also a section on how to confront bullies and again an emphasis on perspective – this too shall pass. The authors stress that ‘hurt people hurt people’ and that self esteem comes from inside.

Other sections deal with the myth of popularity, how popularity is overrated and how, for example, being a team player, thinking for yourself and being positive, even on a Monday, are more important in the workplace and trustworthiness and kindness are far more crucial in long-term relationships outside school.

There are positive and practical examples of how to deal with bullying from talking to someone to having a conversation, if you can, as well as a guide to what to say. And there is also an emphasis on calling out bullying and taking the time to boost other girls’ confidence.

There is a fair amount of stress on positive thinking, such as journalling things you are grateful for, repeating positive mantras to change negative narratives in your head and finding time for self expression through writing, listening to music, reading or even performing random acts of kindness.

Empathy and impact

Nevertheless, there is a recognition that at times mental well being issues can be so challenging that you need help. Finding someone empathetic is vital. Empathy generally is a big issue and can make a huge difference, say the authors. Interestingly, they leave looks to near the end of the book. Everything about knowing who you are and feeling comfortable in your own skin come first.  The authors advise focusing on the whole package rather than, say, your nose, and on how you feel rather than how you look and avoiding comparing yourself with others.

They end with an emphasis on the power of teenage girls and their mood to affect others. They write: “Everyone is adding something to the emotional soup, but I’ve just read a research report that says… wait for it… a teenage daughter has the BIGGEST impact on the atmosphere at home!

“Oh my goshness! YOU are the main ingredient!

“Your emotional contagion is MASSIVE.

“I’m not going to expand on that point. I think it’s more powerful to leave it hanging. The attitude you choose doesn’t only have the power to make or break your day, it also affects those closest to you. That, gorgeous thing, is true Girl Power. Please wield it with the greatest of care.”

*A Girl′s Guide to Being Fearless: How to Find Your Brave by Suzie Lavington and Dr Andy Cope, price £8.34.

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