Recently I taught a series of lessons for middle school girls at a local independent school. We wanted to address social media, where a young woman finds her value, how to navigate living in a sexually charged culture, and discuss openly why anxiety and depression are skyrocketing among young women their age. Girls are more anxious than ever, more depressed, more likely to commit suicide than boys and more focused on their appearance and their sexuality than in past generations. As a mother to a teenage girl and a teacher to young teens, these things are a constant concern. At a time in history where women have more opportunity than ever before, why is there so much confusion and hurt? What is the underlying issue within culture that is wreaking havoc on girlhood?
Statistics point to this confusion. Teen girls experience anxiety about their lives twice as much as boys. Suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-old girls doubled between 2007 and 2015, reaching a 40-year high. Eating disorders and depression continue to rise. Experts offer many reasons for this including social media, body negativity (from comparing themselves), hormonal change, and pressure to be perfect in appearance, achievement and social acceptance. Some of the solutions offered by experts include teaching healthy self-esteem or participating in sports. When you look at a young woman in the face who dislikes her body or feels alone and isolated to the point of anxiety, encouraging her to play soccer is a dismal solution. We are missing something.
During adolescence young women (and men) are neurologically hardwired to seek value, to seek meaning and to understand their purpose. We call this growing up. Their bodies are changing but so are their minds. During this time in their life they want to understand why they are here,what purpose they have and how they fit in. They are seeking their identity. We are struggling as a community and a culture to offer them what they need to develop a healthy identity.
In 2003 before the iPhone and social media the Commission for Children at Risk published a study outlining the concern that exists in culture as well as strategies to combat rising depression and anxiety in young people. Called Hardwired to Connect, scientists and social scientists in conjunction with Dartmouth Medical School published the study. It sites growing isolation and failing community structures as part of the crisis. The recommendations come in part as the result of a biological finding: “The Commission is basing its recommendations on recent scientific findings suggesting that children are biologically “hardwired” for enduring attachments to other people and for moral and spiritual meaning.”
Their suggestions include the need adolescents have for loving, “authoritative community.” Essentially, the study concludes a young person benefits from community, faith, authority and love. More recently, an article published by Harvard press called, “Religious Upbringing linked to better health and well-being in early adulthood”came to a similar conclusion. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/religious-upbringing-adult-health/
As a mom, a science teacher, and a fashion model I began teaching Redeeming Beauty to this particular group of young women with certain objectives: To understand the cultural messages that are subconsciously shaping and mis guiding their thoughts. To promote right thinking about their bodies and their souls. To provide tools to navigate a toxic culture. However, when I stood in front of them I was reminded they need something much deeper. They need the truth of who they are and why they are here. They need to be told and retold of their purpose and their hope.They need a strong word, a strong community, and truth spoken and lived out through people who love them. A strong identity does not come about through positive thoughts and self esteem or playing sports or through affirmation on social media. It is grounded in something much more profound.
Our daughters are hard wired to seek meaning and value in their lives. They will find it somewhere. When identity is sought after in ideas and places that cannot deliver, we will see anxiety, depression, and self-harm. Our girls deserve so much more. Their bodies, their beauty, and their souls have infinite value and as a community of women we are called to instill this truth with love and authority.
Over the next few weeks we will consider how to empower a young woman’s identity by looking at the idea of community, authority, love, and wholeness.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Where is your daughter currently finding her value/identity? (activities, relationships, organizations?)
- Who are women in her life (besides you) that she can go to with questions?
- What role is social media playing in her development?
- From whom does she seek affirmation?
- What institutions is she a part of that seek to invest in who she is becoming as a woman?