10 things parents of teen girls need to know

Teenage girls are facing unprecedented pressures. Here’s how you can help them navigate the road to adulthood.

As the parent of a girl in her late teens, you might be wondering what’s really going on in your daughter’s mind — not to mention, life.

It’s a critical time of development, when teen girls start to spread their wings and look to the future.

Thanks to the Covid pandemic, teens have had to deal with enormous disruption, which has compounded other pressures, from exams to friendships.

For my new book L Platers, I consulted 1000 girls aged 16-18, along with parents, educators and health professionals, about what girls in this age group worry about and need the most.

Here are some insights I’d like to share.

Be ready to listen

There is plenty we can do as parents to support teen girls as they grow into young women.

Our job, as parents and educators, is to listen. Listen. Listen. Listen.

At 14, teen girls often see their parents, particularly Mum, as not possibly being able to understand their lives.

But at 16 and 17 years old, many come out of that tunnel and it’s delightful to see how they want to open up more.

Find places, times and topics to do that with them.

Let them fail

This will improve their confidence, independence and even encourage leadership skills.

It is understandable parents want them to win, succeed and shine, but with every failure comes a lesson that will help them succeed.

Teachers tell stories of parents writing assignments, employing experts to check marks, writing complaints when their daughter misses a role in the school musical and arguing over half-marks on exams.

Think about the adult you want to raise

If we run a business or schedule a holiday, we plan.

And yet often we parent in the moment — not around the whole development of our child.

What kind of adult do we want to have raised at 21 or 25?

If we focus on that and plan the skills and interests we want to foster, it will also reduce short-term worries about one exam fail or one friendship fallout, and encourage development of the whole child.

Covid affected teens hugely

The impact of Covid should not be underestimated.

The elderly might have been the most vulnerable from a health perspective, but teenagers have copped it socially and economically.

They’ve missed milestone events such as graduations, have been isolated from friends, and many have been forced to study at home for almost two years.

Others have done two years of university from their bedroom, and they’ve all missed teen adventures that encourage good judgment skills.

As parents, educators and employers, we need to really consider that.

Instant gratification is the disease of our times

As parents, we book holidays, pay bills and buy groceries with the press of a button.

What does that model for our teens?

And how do we teach them to slow down, to hear silence, see white space and ruminate.

They might not do it if we tell them, but what about if we modelled it?

Male and female livers are different

Female livers take longer to develop and drinking alcohol can put more of a strain on this development.

Women also have on average lower body weights, and alcohol can remain in their system for longer.

Alcohol and drug expert Paul Dillon has a list of stories where 18-year-olds have lost their licence 24 hours after their last drink.

“These girls are really great kids who would never, ever consider breaking a law,” he says.

Mental health is their biggest challenge

This includes eating disorders, self-harm, crippling anxiety, school refusal and depression.

All those issues are increasing among teen girls as some psychologists’ waiting lists stretch beyond 12 months.

In some cases, girls explain they can’t seek help because their parents “don’t believe in that sort of thing”.

Social media addiction remains a problem

But at this age, it changes direction: naked selfies; accounts on subscription porn sites to make money; and Snapchat surgery.

The latter is a new phenomenon where girls seek surgery (fuller lips, bigger eyes, more symmetrical noses) so they can look like they do with social media filters.

It’s a distressing trend.

Many girls are single-minded about an ATAR

This is a number between zero and 99.95 that provides a student’s position relative to all other students.

It is used by universities to offer course places but has become a heartbreaker and life definer.

Teen girls are giving up sport and music and friendships, often with the support of parents, just to focus on a number that is exacerbating mental health problems.

Many teen girls are graduating without basic skills they need as an adult

Too many schools want to top academic league tables and are ignoring skills such as teamwork, communication, critical thinking and even kindness.

Most 18-year-olds don’t have their own Medicare card or tax file number, haven’t done a first aid course or feel confident making an appointment by themselves at a GP.

Some schools are now encouraging a year 13 program, where they stay in contact with students to help them do everything from obtain work to fill out forms.

For more topical lifestyle discussion, pick up your free copy of Wellness+ parenting edition at your local Chemist Warehouse.

Written by Madonna King.