Not long ago, during a walk home from school, my first-grader was pretending to chat on the phone. I asked whom she was “talking” to and when she replied “My boyfriend,” I immediately got that feeling. It was the same foreboding knot that I felt when I recently let her younger sister pick out a new colouring book and she (once again) chose the sparkly “fashion girl” one. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with my kids’ behaviour, I know why it triggers my anxiety. It’s rooted in what I know as a woman, which is that seemingly innocuous things—talking to a boy, appearance and beauty—have the potential to become thornier issues as my girls grow older. It is great to have daughters. But it can feel like walking a tightrope. On the one hand, I’m excited about their future. People have more female role models in just about every public sphere you can think of and women are graduating with more advanced degrees than ever before. Empowering ad campaigns such as Always’s “Like a Girl” series go viral in minutes.
But the sad part is, all of these high achievements come with a downside. Simone Marean, cofounder and executive director of Girls Leadership, a national nonprofit serving girls in grades K–12, as well as their families and educators says “It’s true that girls are doing great on paper, but when we look at what we call the ‘internal résumé,’ we don’t see the same success story.” Although girls’ levels of academic achievement have risen to the point that they now outperform boys consistently, their rates of anxiety, stress, and depression have risen as well. Girls have three times the number of depressive episodes as the boys and the rate at which girls reported feeling depressed nearly tripled in just one year, found a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In other words, while girls are doing everything possible to be all that they can, they’re not enjoying it. And this “wellness gap” is what teachers and parents must focus on.
Here’s what you need to do to raise a happy, confident girl
Help Her Feel Unique
Know Your Impact
Praise Her Imperfection
Instill Social Confidence