​What has happened to make our girls so anxious about daily life? - Susan Dalgety

Who would want to be a teenage girl in 2023? The daily graphic published in this newspaper a few days ago paints a terrible picture of anxious young women, worried about their appearance and vulnerable to online stalkers as they play children’s games online.
More than two-thirds of 11-16 year olds say that boys regularly make toxic comments about them at schoolMore than two-thirds of 11-16 year olds say that boys regularly make toxic comments about them at school
More than two-thirds of 11-16 year olds say that boys regularly make toxic comments about them at school

The data is based on an annual survey carried out by Girlguiding, and shows that girls’ happiness has plummeted since the research project started 15 years ago.

Nearly all girls aged 7-21 years old (89 per cent) say they are generally worried about life, with only a small minority (17 per cent) saying they feel very happy, compared to 40 per cent in 2009.

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What has happened to make our girls so anxious? It’s easy to blame the internet and the toxic environment that social media can generate.

I still recall, with a shudder, the nasty remarks from girls in my high school about my appearance. As they all developed into young women, I stayed stubbornly flat-chested, which for some reason the meanest girls in my year found hilarious.

I can’t begin to imagine how much worse my torment would have been if we had had access to social media and messaging apps.

But there is surely something more at play here. Since 2009, everyone has been buffeted by things outside our control, from Brexit to Covid and now we are all trapped in a cost-of-living crisis with climate change looming over us.

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Celebrity culture, driven by reality television, puts pressure on young girls to look perfect – or at least mimic the look of cosmetically enhanced YouTube and TikTok stars.

And young men who get their sex education on porn sites, freely available on their smartphones, treat their female peers, not as equals, but as sexual objects.

Four in ten girls aged 11-21 say they have been whistled or shouted at on their way to school or college, with more than two-thirds of 11-16 year olds saying that boys regularly made toxic comments about them at school.

Girlguiding has called for more government action to help girls navigate the pressures of modern life, and the passage of the Online Safety Bill in Westminster last Tuesday should make the UK one of the safest places in the world for children to be online.

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New regulations will mean that tech platforms will have to be much more careful about how they handle harmful content, including cyberbullying.

And only last month, the First Minister, Humza Yousaf, said that he wanted Scotland to lead the way on tackling toxic masculinity and male entitlement that leads to the sexual harassment and abuse of women and girls.

“We must ask men to reflect, to be honest and be willing to make the necessary changes in their attitudes,” he said.

As welcome as both developments are, the future happiness of our girls cannot be solely dependent on politicians, even well-meaning ones.

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We all have a responsibility to nurture our daughters, granddaughters, sisters, even the wee girl next door.

There is an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. In our frantic world, where the future seems more uncertain than ever, we should all heed this piece of ancient wisdom.