When I Grow Up

Today’s Teen Girls Are Under Pressure

It’s a common headline: We are in the midst of a scary mental health epidemic. It is apparent that stress and anxiety are much more common today than a generation ago and none of our teens seem to be immune. The teen years are a challenging time for parents, many of whom struggle to find ways to support their children without being overbearing. Lisa Damour’s new book Under Pressure takes a hard look at the stress today’s teens are experiencing and provides concrete examples of how parents can help.

A psychologist with years of experience working with adolescent girls, Damour explores stress, pointing out it isn’t stress itself that’s the problem, but unhealthy levels of stress. She says that stress is essential for growth and development; it helps us push past our comfort zones to tackle new challenges or warn us of threats or dangerous risks. Stress only becomes a problem when it hijacks rational thought and interferes with everyday activities.

Designed to help parents help their daughters (though much of the information applies to boys as well, girls are disproportionately affected by stress), the book is separated by sources of stress: home life, other girls, boys, school and the outside world.

In the area of home life, Damour talks about busy schedules and their impact on mental health. She addresses technology and reminds us that we as parents know more about our children than our parents knew about us. She acknowledges that groups of girls will have conflict and addresses how today’s technology complicates communication and also impact girls’ sleep patterns, upping their anxiety.

Damour talks about sexual harassment and the “double standard” that requires girls to “behave” better than boys. She makes observations some parents may miss such as: girls are overly concerned about how others feel and feel guilty about their own negative feelings, and that maintaining a “public persona” is a big source of stress, especially for those who feel that anything short of “full disclosure” compromises personal integrity.   While taking risks (and the associated stress) is part of learning, too often a focus on grades and “being good” brings stress to an unhealthy level.

This book makes an effective argument that anxiety in itself is not a threat but a warning system.  As parents we can help our teens by acknowledging their fears without judging and talking to them; it’s important that we maintain an open line of communication. It is also on parents to be proactive and initiate tough conversations. Under Pressure is a useful guide to help us not only see the issues but also to help our teens take some of the pressure off.

I received a copy of Under Pressure from Net Galley free of charge; these opinions are my own. (Full disclosure – I plan to purchase a hard copy for future reference.)

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