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Why Are Girls Nowadays so Fearful and Depressed?

Like many of us, I went through a rough adolescence. I wrote about every aspect of how I felt—vulnerable, unsteady, and confused—on the pages of my well guarded journals.

Looking back, I can see that this untamedness had a certain allure. I was able to identify my identity and the types of people I desired in my life thanks to all those intense emotions. I consider myself fortunate to be a member of the final generation to grow up with few internet distractions and the last to be inspired by Gen X slackers rather than the self-improvers who followed. I was partially shielded from society pressures telling me I should be and accomplish more by this rawness.

That isn't accurate now. Girls are experiencing greater external demands as they mature, which makes the transition from childhood to adolescence psychologically distressing than it always was. According to research, rates of anxiety and depression in girls have sharply increased recently and are significantly greater than those in boys.

Donna Jackson Nakazawa explores why this is the case as well as solutions in her new book, "Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media." Nakazawa was interviewed by CNN on the latest findings in brain research on females and puberty as well as how our fast-paced, online lifestyle doesn't always meet our psychological requirements.

There is a lot of emphasis on competitiveness and performance, says Donna Jackson Nakazawa. The years between the ages of seven and thirteen, when kids should be hanging out with their pals and lying on the grass to talk about whatever, are something that our kids are missing out on. We've replaced that with a society that moves quickly, and we've added social media, which children aren't supposed to use until they're 13 but many do much sooner.

Girls are particularly affected by the emphasis on beauty once they are on social media. Compared to boys, they are more likely to be sexualized and "liked" or "disliked" based just on appearance. They discover that their bodies will be scrutinized and that the more garments you remove, the more "likes" you receive.

The risks of climate change, school shootings, and other dangers should be added. The intensity of the emotions is rising as a result of the creation of social media platforms. The brutal fact that girls frequently face additional hazards like sexual harassment, rape, and violence against women just because they are female must then be thrown on top of that.

The period of puberty is particularly hazardous for females' brain development. Of course, this also applies to males and people with various abilities, but it is particularly true for girls. There is a logical reason why estrogen is particularly effective in boosting a robust stress response to unabated stressors when it enters the picture during puberty.

According to evolutionary theory, estrogen is a very cool hormone and the brain's master regulator. On the plus side, it offers women this extra immunological response under normal conditions, which helps keep them robust and healthy. However, it can cause our systems to overreact when a woman is exposed to significant chronic stresses in the environment. This explains why women respond more strongly to vaccinations and develop autoimmune disorders at a rate that is many times higher than that of males. Social pressures can cause immunological reactions akin to those brought on by physical injury.

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The negative effects of stress on health and development can be even worse when females endure severe social and emotional pressures when estrogen begins to emerge throughout puberty.

Early puberty occurs at a time when the brain isn't meant to be changing. The regions of the brain that help us decide what to react to and what not to, as well as when we need assistance, have not yet activated.

Although scientists are still attempting to determine why puberty is occurring sooner, we do know that it is. Girls began having periods at the age of 16 in 1800, around 15 in the 1900s, and on average at 11 in 2020. It is possible that stress or a change in nutrition hastens growth. According to some neuroscientists, one reason why females experience puberty earlier than boys may also be due to early sexualization of girls. The pathways that cause puberty may be triggered if the environment suggests that you are sexual. But there is always someone who argues we don't know in opposition to each of these views.

For this reason, make it a positive experience for your daughter whenever she comes to you with a difficult situation. It speaks a lot about a child's development if they claim they can talk to their parents about anything. Parents should make an effort to maintain open lines of communication with everyone, including teachers and beloved aunts in addition to their children.

Nakazawa: There are several approaches to include the larger community. Too many parents believe they are dealing with this alone, but we are not, and we shouldn't believe this is only our responsibility. When our children stop communicating with us, it is OK to contact the school and request assistance. If you can't handle your child's anxiety or depression on your own, you are not a failure. Why should we assume that we are the only ones who can offer sound advice?

There is strong evidence that talk therapy can be beneficial. As humans have evolved over time, we have known that the tribe has our backs, so may having a larger community, which can provide youngsters a lot of comfort. We grew up in social environments, but today there is so much loneliness, and children feel like they are competing with one another, which makes it harder for them to feel connected.

Overall, the more we can make our girls feel secure by presenting a compelling, engaging, and exciting outside world that is full of good connections and separate from their online social media environment.

They have a higher chance of surviving their adolescent years without depression or anxiety when they feel safe since their brains' stress-reduction mechanisms are less likely to activate. Girls' brains are highly flexible during puberty because they are taking in many social cues at once. The teenage female brain is a superpower if these cues are effective and we remove many stresses.

© 2022 Christian Daniel

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