Education & Family

Parents miss pressures on girls, says Girlguiding

Teenage girl silhouette

Parents are too often out of touch with the mental health pressures faced by girls and young women, suggests research.

Self-harm was the biggest health concern for girls aged 11-21, according to the Girlguiding Girls' Attitudes Survey 2015.

Researchers questioned a representative sample of more than 1,500 UK girls and young women aged seven to 21.

The findings "provide a stark warning", said chief executive Julie Bentley.

Resilience

The figures show the mental wellbeing and resilience of UK girls are under threat - and yet adults are failing to recognise this, according to the organisation, the UK's largest charity for girls and young women.

Among more than 1,000 11-to-21-year-old girls and young women questioned, the top health concerns were self-harm, mental illness, depression and eating disorders, along with smoking.

Some 62% of this age group said they knew a girl or young woman who had experienced a mental health problem, while 82% said adults often failed to recognise the pressures they faced.

Overall, more than a third (37%) said they had needed help with their own mental health.

Girlguiding says comparable figures from its 2010 survey showed girls' top concerns then were binge-drinking, smoking and drug abuse.

Image caption Many of the girls surveyed said they were concerned about their looks

The 2015 survey suggests girls believe their parents' worries are stuck in the past, focusing on drug and alcohol abuse.

Worries about sexual harassment and low body confidence are widespread, suggests the survey.

Three-quarters of the 11-to-21 age group said anxiety about sexual harassment had had a negative impact on them in some way, for example, affecting what they wore and how they felt about their bodies.

Some 39% said they had experienced a demeaning comment on their appearance within the past week.

Among the seven-to-11 age group, 83% reported feeling sad or down and 16% said this was because of concerns about their looks.

Root causes

Ms Bentley called for an open conversation about the issues.

"By listening to girls we can work together to tackle the root causes of their distress and champion their potential."

Guide Katherine Bradfield, aged 18, said the survey shone a light "on what life is really like for girls in the UK today - and it's a troubling picture.

"Girls are battling adversity at every corner - as everyday sexism and harassment remain a constant, unwanted presence in our lives.

"Now we see the damaging consequences of these pressures, as they take their toll on girls' mental wellbeing.

"We've given a voice to girls' concerns. Now it's time for real change to tackle this damning status quo."

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