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Sound the ALARM....Our Teenage Girls Are NOT Ok!

A new CDC report shows trends in adolescent health & well-being including mental health are increasingly worsening and the CDC along with pediatricians and mental health professionals are sounding the alarm.

The CDC analysis is based on data collected in fall 2021 from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, taken by a nationally representative sample of students in public and private high schools. The results released last week, are derived from more than 17,200 responses, and are the first since the pandemic began. The survey is done every two years,

Some of the findings include:

  • Female students and LGBQ students are experiencing alarming rates of violence, poor mental health, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

  • 3 in 5 girls felt persistently sad and hopeless, a marker for depressive symptoms, in 2021, up nearly 60% from 2011.

  • Almost 1 in 5 teen girls experienced sexual violence in the past year—a 20% increase since 2017.

While the CDC did not provide conclusive reasoning for ALL the reasons why teens are in such a sad and desperate state, I think it’s safe to say that the pandemic, school closures, screens, and social media have all had an impact on teens mental health. And parents-- along with schools-- need to arm themselves with as many educational tools as possible to create additional opportunities for connection, and other safety nets for children that are struggling.

In my recent post, 5 Tips For Healthy Social Media Use, I highlight additional research that supports these findings along with tips about how to set better boundaries for yourself. In fact, this latest information shouldn’t be a surprise because the data out there has supported these findings for a few years now. And sadly the social media companies know it too. A few startling facts I included in my original post but am reposting here:

My longtime friend and pediatrician wrote this recently and I thought it was worth quoting as it’s a passionate plea from a health care provider on the front lines to encourage parents to keep a close eye on your teens, take more action, and examine your own technology habits.

And PS: there's a reason many Meta employees I know don't let their children/teens on social media. :)

We all need connection. If you have worked in a school or in health care with teenage girls over the past 3 years, or you have a teenage girl living with you, the CDC’s recent report will not surprise you. The amount of anxiety and depression in teenage girls is catastrophic. It’s devastating. As a country we need to wake up and do something about it. There are not enough psychiatrists, psychologists, pediatricians, guidance counselors and helping professionals in this country to support the need. Insurance DOES NOT BEGIN TO COVER MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS. I am a believer that we all need therapy. Every one of us.
What I see in my patients is a lack of connection. A feeling of being alone. A feeling of no one understanding. A feeling of being left out. A feeling of not being perfect enough. A feeling of not accomplishing enough. Of having no tribe.
Over the past few years, I have seen straight A students who loved life become suicidal. Student athletes who were at the top of their game not showing up to practice, or class, then not showing up in their life. There are too many stories. It’s heartbreaking.
The bottom line is these girls do not feel connected. They don’t feel loved, they don’t feel seen, they don’t feel they belong anywhere. AND THEY WANT TO BE LOVED AND SEEN AND BELONG. THEY WANT TO FIND THEIR TRIBE.
We do LOVE THEM. We want to see them. We want them to feel they belong. We want to be their tribe.
In my opinion there are multiple causes of this loss of connection. I want to talk about one specifically. I won’t pretend phones are the destruction of mankind, no one wants to hear it. But, if you have a teenage daughter or son, I implore you to think hard about the habits in your family. Social media is addictive, Apple knows it, Facebook knows it, Instagram knows it, Snapchat knows it and the list goes on.
Perfectionism breeds on social media, disconnection breeds on social media. Bullying breeds on social media. The addiction and dopamine are real, for all of us even as adults.
Get off your phones and set an example, hug your kids instead. Lose your phones. Put phones away during family meals, invite your daughter's friends over and have them leave their phones in a bowl when they are there. They need to sit and chat face to face. They need to be bored. We all need to see each other's faces in real life, not on a screen.
Put your kids phones in YOUR bedroom at night at least AN HOUR before bed. Alarm clocks cost $15 at target. Setting these boundaries is hard especially when rules change and especially when they are going through the real withdrawal of tech addiction which can take 2-6 weeks.
But you know what’s harder….having a suicidal daughter or son. Having a son or daughter who isn't here anymore because they took their own life. I guarantee this is harder.”
-Nicole Gable, M.D. Practicing Pediatrician for 15+ years

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