Submitted by Whitney Antrim
“We Are On Each Others’ Team” – Lorde
Wednesday, March 8 is International Women’s Day. In honor of this day marked to recognize women, I ask you to consider a growing crisis among our young women, teens, and girls. You may not have even been aware of it – sometimes we get caught up in esoteric debates and miss the disaster before our very eyes. Recent studies have shown that mental health issues among teenage girls have reached an all-time high. Rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts have skyrocketed in recent years, and it is clear that something needs to be done to address this catastrophe. According to the Washington Post, “Nearly 1 in 3 high school girls said they had considered suicide, a 60 percent rise in the past decade. Nearly 15 percent had been forced to have sex. About 6 in 10 girls were so persistently sad or hopeless they stopped regular activities…[t]hese expressions of inner crisis are just a glint of the startling data reported by federal researchers this week.”
(“The Crises in American Girlhood” By D. George, K. Reynolds Lewis, and L. Bever, February 17, 2023. See also “Teen Girls ‘Engulfed’ in Violence and Trauma, CDC Finds“.)
The issue is multi-faceted but shares a common cause: Many people feel pressure to present a perfect image of themselves online, which can be incredibly stressful and damaging to their mental health. Cyberbullying can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression. Unrealistic and impossible beauty standards are prevalent in our society. Many people feel pressure to conform to these standards, which can lead to body image issues, disordered eating, and a host of related mental health problems. The most jarring, to me: the prevalence of sexual violence toward teens.
Researchers concluded that the major factor contributing to the crisis is social media. Social media is the toxic, poisoned “culture” our girls are growing up in. Avoiding the platforms might not save us – the effects are everywhere. I think we all have seen it in how we interact with each other “IRL.”
It is essential that we take action as a community to support the mental health of our teenagers. This demands intentional, thoughtful, and concerted efforts to tackle these issues head-on. We must provide resources for those who are struggling with mental health issues. We have to talk to our loved ones about difficult subjects, such as sexual assault. We have to hold people accountable for bad behavior online and shine a healing light on painful dark subjects. And we must work together to create a culture that promotes self-acceptance, positive body image, and clear sexual boundaries. We also need to take a critical look at the role that social media plays in the lives of teenagers and ensure that it is not poisoning the water and triggering mental health struggles.
We cannot afford to ignore the crisis in American teenage girls. It is time to take action and provide the support and resources that our teens and young adults need to thrive. I am proud to have helped create CUSD’s Cyber Committee – committed to “keeping kids safe online” – but that’s only a first step in the right direction. This is an urgent, all-hands-on-deck situation.
I don’t know the answers, but I’m committed to listening to our young people and to doing the work.
So I am extending an invitation – an invitation to shine a light on this issue by sharing your stories and looking for possible solutions. I want to hear from you. What are your experiences, thoughts, concerns, ideas? Has this affected you or someone you know? Someone you love? What can we do?
Please email me, meet me for coffee, or stop by my office hours (the next one is: March 16, 2023 at 7pm on Zoom. You can Register at: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYuc-utrTgpE92vz82EgvCgld7d6F-TpiUE)
Let’s come together to help one another heal and make our community stronger.
I am always available to talk. You can reach me at [email protected]. And if you or someone you know is struggling, please visit 988lifeline.org or call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.
Yours in Service,
Trustee, CUSD Governing Board