Teenage girls feel under increasing pressure from magazines and websites to live up to material and sexual ideals, leaving them vulnerable and unhappy, according to research out today.
Girls as young as 10 are suffering from stress and anxiety because they feel under pressure to grow up too quickly, a study by Girlguiding UK and the Mental Health Foundation has found.
Tracey Murray, trustee for Girlguiding UK, said young girls often found it difficult to cope with an increasing number of social pressures. "Young girls today often feel there is a growing checklist of ideals they have to adhere to. If they don't they often feel singled out and vulnerable to bullying."
A significant number of respondents felt that images and advice given in magazines and online pushed them towards adult behaviour before they were ready, she added.
According to the report, A Generation Under Stress?, two in five felt worse about themselves after looking at pictures of models, pop stars and actresses in magazines. Some teens also felt under pressure from such publications to be thin, take drugs and even have plastic surgery. Many were self-conscious about their appearance and weight, with a number citing the pressure of the "size zero" culture. The girls questioned described being put under sexual pressure from boys at school or feeling obliged to wear clothes that made them look older.
Pressures to own material goods such as iPods, mobile phones and expensive clothes are also having a negative impact on the lives of many young girls, according to the report. The perceived need to own expensive gadgets left one in five girls feeling angry or sad. "To an extent teenagers have always felt isolated but new pressures, such as the need to buy expensive gadgets and school exams, are making the situation worse," said Murray. Exams made 74 % of the girls questions feel worried, and 19% felt negatively about themselves.
The study - compiled from an online survey of 350 girls and eight separate focus groups - found that many young girls believed self-harm was "normal" behaviour for teenagers; 42% of the 10- to 14-year-olds surveyed knew someone who had harmed themselves; 32% had a friend who had suffered from an eating disorder, and half knew someone who had suffered from depression. Some teenage girls linked self-harm with belonging to a particular social group. One participant explained her best friend, a fan of emo music, had cut her wrists "to fit in with the emos".
Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "Girls and young women are being forced to grow up at an unnatural pace in the society that we, as adults, have created and it's damaging their emotional wellbeing.
"We have a responsibility to put this right - we must tackle head-on the difficulties that the younger generation are facing."
Source: The Guardian