They seriously underestimate their daughters’ distress

Miranda Green in the Financial Times points out a disquieting statistic.

[N]ews this week that one in four 14-year-old girls (and one in 10 boys of the same age) are experiencing the symptoms of depression should detain us.

I think the fact that far more 14-year-old girls than boys are experiencing the symptoms of depression should detain us a good deal longer.

It may be tempting to dismiss today’s adolescent moods, blithely, as something we have all endured. But the sources of young people’s anxiety seem to have changed quite fundamentally as growing up migrates online. The worst cases have serious real-world consequences. One MP told me of a visit from a family who wanted help to move not just out of the local school, but out of London completely. Images of their daughter, aged 13, engaged in what used to be called heavy petting, had been shared so widely that the neighbourhood had become a hostile environment.

Ah there it is. Images of a boy engaged in sexual activity don’t trash his life the way such images do a girl’s. It’s almost as if the double standard is not one bit less double than it ever was, decades of feminism notwithstanding.

“Teenagers live their life more in public,” ponders Justine Brian, director of schools at the education support network Civitas: “They are always one Snapchat picture or Facebook post away from someone slagging them off.” She and I shared the peculiar frustration of judging a debating competition for secondary schools, supposedly on a motion about fake news. It instead unleashed a torrent of anxiety from the teenagers about managing their online personas. Our attempts to steer the sixth formers back on to the topic failed — they were possessed, as Ms Brian puts it, by “the idea that something terrible might happen online at age 16 and the rest of your life is ruined”.

And they’re not wrong – it might and it could be.

This week’s report, part of government-funded longitudinal studies, shows that parents are no good at working out what is going on: they overestimate how depressed and anxious their sons feel, and seriously underestimate their daughters’ distress.

Decades of feminism, and still we don’t get it.

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