Teaching girls to be helpless
New research published this week revealed that emotional problems among UK girls aged 11-13 increased by 55 per cent between 2009 and 2014.
Scientists from UCL and the Anna Freud Centre, a charity that specialises in child mental-health issues, compared questionnaires completed by 1,600 pupils aged 11-13 in 2009, with similar surveys conducted five years later. Co–author of the report Miranda Wolpert said: ‘Although we cannot say for sure why emotional problems among girls are increasing, growing pressures on girls and young women through academic pressure and increasing sexualisation and objectification of women, amplified by social media, could be factors.’ Elian Fink, lead author of the study, also suggested that cuts to mental-health services could be contributing to the increase in the number of girls suffering from emotional problems.
Fink said that emotional issues among the young could be treated through effective intervention and encouraging teachers to detect signs of emotional problems. But is this really such a good idea? Too much focus on the social pressures that young girls are under could risk investing these pressures with too much power. And encouraging yet more teacher intervention could lead to mollycoddling. In other words, providing too much help for young people to deal with everyday issues could encourage a greater dependency on teachers and social services. Not allowing young girls to deal with everyday problems from a young age could make them less equipped to do so as they get older. Young people are effectively learning to be helpless.
Sarah Brennan, from the charity Young Minds, argued that the increase in the number of girls facing emotional problems emphasises the ‘worsening state of children and young people’s mental health in this country’. Despite such diagnoses, however, the study is not all doom and gloom. It also revealed that despite a rise in the number of girls facing emotional problems, the number of those facing other mental-health problems has not changed significantly. And the study also shows that difficulties faced by boys over the five-year timescale have decreased. Further study into the factors that have led to this decrease could be interesting and suggest that, actually, further intervention to help girls may not be necessary.
Elsa Makouezi is editorial assistant at spiked.
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