Have you ever talked to teenage girls about their schedules?
I’ll be honest, I sometimes feel tired just hearing about everything they do. Did you know the the American Psychological Association found that adolescent girls get the least amount of sleep out of any group of Americans?
Consider every role a girl plays in a 24 hour day. Maybe she’s a best friend and confidante. Late-night-studying student. Leave-it-all-on-the-field athlete. Devoted volunteer. Witty Instagram caption writer. Snapchat streak keeper. Daughter, granddaughter, sister.
Psychologists call this role overload: when you have too many roles to play. It leads to stress. Lots of it.
I love raising my own daughter at a moment when she can be and do anything. But let’s be real: all this opportunity is not without its costs.
Girl power has been transformative, but I often wonder whether it’s set girls up for some real unhappiness.
After all, it’s not like our culture said to girls: “Hey, go ahead and focus on being an engineer, or an entrepreneur. No need to worry about that bikini body anymore.”
Society has offered girls something far more complicated: “Hey, go be an engineer and enter that robotics competition…But you better stay sexy, have lots of friends, and post a killer Snapchat story on Saturday night.”
Truth bomb: we haven’t let up on the unfair, old-school pressure that girls have always had to bear. We’ve just added to it.
So how do we help? First, we tap into the messages they’re internalizing from the culture about how to pursue success. The good news is that these rules are pretty similar for adults, so they likely won’t come as a surprise.
My research has uncovered four toxic “rules” our culture enforces for girls around stress, achievement and failure:
The New Rules Of Stress Culture:
Be amazing at everything you do: excellence is the goal in every domain, whether it’s school, sports or Instagram. Don’t forget to make it look effortless while you’re at it.
Everyone is doing (and being) more than you are: they’re getting better grades and scores, doing more to get into college, and probably having a better social life, too.
Being overwhelmed is the new normal: if you’re not feeling like you can barely survive your workload, you’re not working hard enough.
Stress makes you worthy and competent: feeling overwhelmed means you’re working well and achieving your potential.
I think these toxic messages are part of why girls suffer disproportionately from depression and anxiety.
So what can you do to combat them?
How To Stand Up To Stress Culture For Your Daughter
Try to avoid saying, “You’re putting too much pressure on yourself,”which implies that if she just calmed down, the world would suddenly stop expecting so much of her (it won’t).
Tell her this isn’t her fault. She is growing up at a time when the culture is sending girls — and all of us, really — unhealthy messages that tell us nothing, and no one, is ever enough.
Tell her she’s not alone. That feeling she has, where she worries she can’t keep up, and that everyone else is doing better? Everyone else feels the same way. Just because people don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Be willing to talk back to those unfair rules. She needs your courage.
Most importantly, remind her every day why she is enough. What do you love about her that has nothing to do with her accomplishments? Start there. Fortunately, when girls know why they are enough as they are, those external voices don’t have the same hold.
Talk to her. Trust your instincts. I believe in your power just as much as you believe in hers.