What you have to know about mental health, social media and drugs if you have a daughter.

With the current budget, UK Government announced special £2bn funding to boost mental health support (here). Last blog, I talked about introducing meditation to the children from young age to manage their stress (here). This time, I wanted to look, is there a difference on how to raise a mentally healthy daughter versus raising emotionally healthy son?

The gender differences diminish with the age and there are always atypical girls and boys. But there are studies to show that the girls are more at risk: more than two-thirds of antidepressants prescribed to teenagers are for girls (see details here).

If we look at mental health we are talking about emotional, psychological, and social well-being of a person. Well-being can be impacted by biological factors (not discusses in this blog) or by life experiences.

I will not talk about traumatic experiences like abuse or trauma but I would like to look at daily, seemingly insignificant things that impact our children on a regular bases but can accumulate into increased stress and potentially lead to drugs usage, eating disorders or self-harm.

What is one activity that takes most of our children’s free time as they grow older? Kaiser Family Foundation's 2010 study estimated that on average 8-10 years old spend five-and-a-half hours of screen time per day. It is 8 hours and 40 minutes for those aged 11-14, and just under 8 hours for 15-18 year-olds. According to Common Sense Media report this year (see here), teens are spending online nearly nine hours on average per day and 8-12 yrs old spend six hours per day.

If you look into gender difference though, we are talking about different online behaviour. Girls are more likely than boys to say they spend too much time on social media (47% vs. 35%) while boys were four times as likely to report spending too much time on video games (41% of boys vs. 11% of girls) according to PEW report.

As girls spend more time on social media, they are more bombarded by perfect (filtered) images. In addition, there is a difference in what girls post on social media.

Boys’ post their action on social media. i.e. where they have been or what they have done. Therefore, if friends do not like it, it is not as much a public opinion about the boy who posted it. The girls post their own images as the main post material, so any comment is taken very personally.

As a result, there is an immense pressure on self-image and self-confidence, which often leads to anxiety or depression.

What one can do as a parent of a girl?  There are main three steps:

 (1) help your daughter to strengthen her self-confidence and understanding what matters;

(2) do not be afraid to set the rules on social media use; and

(3) keep an eye on signals of stress or anxiety and teach how to manage those.

Self-Confidence for Girls:

Steve Biddulph’s “Raising girls” summarised is perfectly well: your main job as a parent of 10-14 yrs old girl is to help your daughter to find her spark. Spend time with your daughter to understand what she is good at and what she enjoys to make sure she has something to give her confidence.

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It is proven that girls usually underestimate how they look and their abilities while boys tend to overestimate their look and abilities. So girls need more encouragement about their look and talents.

Teach your daughter a philosophy of soin de soi (self-care) that French women pass to their daughters. We had a personal stylist at the club this week (see here interview here) and one point she mentioned is why French woman are known for their style. Is it biological? Of cause not.  It is how mothers are bringing up their daughters. Mothers are teaching daughters to take care of one selves. French woman’s greatest love affair is with herself. French women maximise their assets and exude confidence because of it. Attitude is the secret to their style. We should invest our time to teach these notions to our daughters.

Set a good example by your own behaviour. A friend of mine confessed that she had a severe anorexia in senior school. She remembered that her mother was always dieting and always was unhappy with her own weight and look.

I am not the most self-confident woman about my looks myself, but after this conversation with my friend, I am more conscious not to talk about dieting or loosing weight in front of my daughter.

Lastly, have a conversation with your daughter on how everybody’s life is a mix of successes and failures and that online images are not reality.  Be open about your own successes and failures.

Set the Rules:

It is fair to discuss with the daughter what you would expect about her posts when she starts social media profile. Explaining to her why objectifying herself is a lack of self-respect and what are your expectations about the photos to be posted.

Make sure to explain to the children that whatever is posted online is accessible to anybody long after the date of post, including future schools and employers.  

Do not be afraid to use apps to set limit on the social media and Internet usage per day like OurPact (see other options here).

Do not allow any screens in the bedroom or during homework.

Keep an eye on the signals about anxiety or depression and offer support

If you notice any change in sleeping or eating patterns (too little or too much), pulling away from regular people or activities, having low or no energy, having unexplained aches and pains, yelling or fighting with family or friends (with higher frequency or intensity), do not just ignore those signs.

Offer to have yoga, walks (use www.borrowmydoggy.com to give your daughter a chance for regular walks), meditation (see my last week post how to start off mediation with younger kids to give them the skills to manage the stress).  And remember – do not make your child to live your ambition for life.

Drugs

I found a chapter on drugs usage by girls vs boys in the Why Gender Matters Gender Matters  by Leonard Sax an eye-opening. Girls are likely to take drugs because they want to loos the weight or decrease stress or enhance their academic performance, while boys do it mainly for either trill or status. Explaining to girls the risks associating with taking drugs may prevent the usage while with boys it is unlikely to help.  You can start the conversation as early as 8 years old and do make sure you have a proper talk about the age of 12. There are a lot of useful sites to give the advice on how to prepare the talk such as one from NHS (here) or if you child is older introduce FRANK.

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 Let me know your thoughts on how you are approaching being a parent of a pre-teen and teen daughters.