By mid-adolescence, girls are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder as boys. Further, more recent studies have found that COVID-19 has compounded anxiety-related mental health issues for young Australians.
Leading South Australian girls’ school principal, Dr Nicole Archard shares why she believes adolescent girls struggle more with anxiety and how a better understanding of self can help girls on the road to adulthood.
It is a timely reminder of the importance of transparent discourse on the levels of anxiety being felt by young girls.
“Anxiety is a complex issue for girls. We know from research girls typically experience higher levels of anxiety than boys. Given the significance and timing of R U OK? Day, this is an important reminder to parents, as well as educators, to talk openly with young girls about how they are feeling,” said Dr Archard.
In speaking to why girls are more susceptible to higher levels of anxiety, she says:
“Heightened anxiety among young girls is somewhat linked to the drop of confidence that happens in adolescence, and the impact of many societal pressures and stereotypes that continue to be placed on girls, in particular through their journey through adolescence.”
The Loreto College principal advocates for a need to equip young girls with the skills to build a positive self-concept and develop a greater understanding of who they are and who they want to be as they transition into adulthood:
“We have to be able to get girls to look at themselves and say, ‘I’m enough. I’m happy as I am, I’m enough’. I passionately believe the girls’ school environment is best positioned to have this effect on young girls.”
Within a single-sex environment, girls are observed to be more confident and show fewer inhibitions, which is vital to building positive self-esteem and granting the opportunity to break through gender stereotypes.
“As educators, we play an influential role in encouraging positive self-talk and strengthening the emotional and social competencies of young girls to ensure they can navigate the complexities of adolescence, including dealing with anxiety,” said Dr Archard.
Dr Archard also acknowledges the important correlation between levels of anxiety and students completing their SACE and seeking an ATAR.
“An ATAR will get you into a university course; it will not make you successful in life. If we can focus on the skills regarding how you feel about yourself, your identity, your self-concept, your self-efficacy, that you’re a good person, that you care for others – these are the life-building skills that are going to get girls through life more successfully, and a lot more happily than by simply focusing on a discourse of achieving the highest ATAR possible,” said Dr Archard.
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