Today’s girls face social and academic pressures their parents could barely have imaged at the same age. They may be overwhelmed by any number of forces: The demands of being available 24/7 to friends (and not-so-friends) via cell phone. Our overly-sexualized culture, bombarding them from every screen. The pervasive, well-documented sexism they encounter every day, some obvious and some less so, from strangers as well as the people they love and trust.
Not surprisingly, girls between the ages of 10 and 18 are at the most risk of any population of developing an anxiety disorder. Girls are under enormous pressure to succeed academically, appear effortlessly beautiful and skinny, stand up for themselves, and take on leadership roles — all while remaining kind and attentive to their friends and families, and unthreatening to teachers and their male counterparts. As a teen in one of my focus groups put it, “We’re expected to do everything, all at once — and it’s impossible.”
The girls in my focus groups tell me about the unique challenges of their everyday lives, from comments about their clothing choices to relational aggression between girls to being afraid to walk around in the world by themselves. My work with girls involves providing unconditional emotional support as well as strategies for coping with the pressures of their daily lives. I also work with parents of girls, helping them identify and build on their daughters’ strengths and navigate the notoriously tricky emotional landscape of parenting an adolescent.