Many studies and articles have begun to articulate the cost of this pressure. Check out Courtney Martin's new book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters for a frank picture at the lengths girls and young women will go to overachieve and the toll this pressure can take when their bodies are the testing ground.
Unfortunately, this pressure is not limited to teen girls. Girls are feeling this pressure at younger and younger ages, as a 2006 Girls Inc study, "The SuperGirl Dilemma: Girls Grapple with the Mounting Pressures of Expectations" reveals. Among the findings:
- Persistent gender expectations are being compounded by a growing emphasis on perfection, resulting in mounting pressure on girls to be supergirls. Three-quarters of girls (74%) in the study agree that girls are under a lot of pressure to please everyone, and 84% of these girls say that they dislike that this is true.
- Girls say they are under a great deal of stress today. Three-quarters (74%) of girls in grades 9-12, over half of girls (56%) in grades 6-8, and just under half of girls (46%) in grades 3-5 say they often feel stressed (describes them "somewhat" or "a lot").
- Girls want to seize the opportunities available to them, with 71% of participants reporting that they aspire to go to college full time after graduating from high school. However, stress and concerns such as the cost of college undermine girls' quality of life, particularly as they get older.
Order the study here or check out the Power Point here
Girls in the NY Times article discuss the pressure they feel to be "genuine," or to be "themselves," a demonstration of one of the normal passages of adolescence to understand who you are as an individual and at the same time a recognition that one common insult of teenagers is to call someone fake or phony. Helping teen girls navigate all of these pressures, and come to an understanding of who they are as a person is a tall order for the adults in their lives.
What adults can do:
- Most teens want someone to talk to, who will listen to them without judgement. Try listening without talking or giving advice.
- Support girls and young women taking some "me" time. This means taking time to do something not related to achievement, like reading a book, watching some tv, or hanging out with friends, not a study group.
- Encourage girls to participate in an activity as a member, not having to be the leader. It's okay not be in charge of everything.