What's the Matter with Teenage Girls?
American girls are reporting shockingly high rates of mental illness and sexual violence. What's going on?
American girls are in trouble.
The CDC has released its Youth Risk Behavioral Survey this week, looking at recent data and decade-long trends among American teenagers, and the results are incredibly troubling, especially for girls and LGBT youth. Across racial groups, genders, and sexual orientations, young people are taking fewer risks — they are smoking, drinking, and doing drugs less; they are less likely to be sexually active, and less likely to have multiple sexual partners. But girls are also more likely than in past years to say that they had been raped — roughly one in 7 said they had been forced into sex at some point in their lives. One in five teenage girls and more than one in four LGBTQ teens said they had been electronically bullied within the past year. Fifty-seven percent of teenage girls said they experienced persistent feelings of hopelessness in the past year; nearly 70% of LGBTQ teens said the same. And nearly one in three girls, and close to half of LGBTQ teenagers, said they had considered suicide in the past year. Thirteen percent of girls and 22% of LGBTQ teens said they had attempted it.
This is really, really bad.
So what is going on? It’s perhaps not surprising that significant numbers of girls and LGBTQ kids are hopeless, despondent, and potentially suicidal given that large numbers of girls and LGBTQ kids have been raped, sexually assaulted, and bullied. It’s not surprising that teenage girls and LGBTQ teens have absorbed the broader cultural backlash currently being waged against them, with abortion rights being rolled back, LGBT rights under attack, and the very basic right to read and learn suddenly hot culture war issues. Too many American teenagers have just spent far too long in isolation as schools shuttered, then remained only partially open, and as the usual activities of teenage life were suddenly slowed or halted. And then teens reentered a world of other under-socialized adolescents who had also missed crucial months or even years of social development, and had spent much more of their time in online spaces.
But this was a widespread teenage experience in 2020 and 2021. Why might isolation have affected girls more than boys?