What’s the Matter with Girls?
Unless you’ve been in a state of cryonic suspension, you’ve no doubt heard that America’s adolescent girls are depressed. The internet is chock-a-block with articles with titles like “Teen Girls Are Facing a Mental Health Epidemic,” “Teen Girls Report Record Levels of Sadness,” “American Teen Girls are Not OK,” each one stocked with disquieting stories of self-cutting, Tik Tok-induced Tourette’s syndrome, gender dysphoria, anorexia, and suicidal plans. A slew of studies has appeared highlighting the reality of these headlines. To name just two: a 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that 57% of female students were experiencing persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness, a rise from 36% in 2011. And last February, the CDC published a survey replicating the YRBS findings. The researchers found that 60% of girls felt sadness every day for at least two weeks during the previous year, twice the rate of boys. Alarmingly, 1 in 3 teen girls had considered taking her own life.
Do we know why girls are so unhappy? There’s plenty of speculation. Maybe it’s meritocratic pressure to make the Ivy League. Or it could be the mess of a world they’re living in, what Gen Z influencer Taylor Lorenz called on Twitter “a late-stage capitalist hellscape” (though you would have to assume this is a fate burdening both boys and girls). Jon Haidt and Jean Twenge have been arguing, cogently in my view, that social media and digital life are damaging adolescent mental health. Girls spend more time on social media: ergo, they’re worse off. But the truth is we don’t know for sure.
Kay S. Hymowitz is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. She is the author of several books, most recently The New Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.
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