published Sunday, March 25th, 2012

'Girls on the Edge'

According to Dr. Leonard Sax, author of "Girls on the Edge," girls today are much more anxious than they were 40 years ago.

You might assume that modern times are more uncertain, said Sax. "However, if you look at history, 40 years ago girls were living with the very real threat of nuclear holocaust. Girls living during the Depression definitely knew the meaning of uncertainty. Research suggests that the surge in anxiety among girls today is not a function of household income. Other factors such as new technology appear to be more relevant."

Compare a teen girl today with one growing up in 1992. In 1992, the girl is writing in a diary that won't be published on the Internet. She is actually doing important work as she tries to discern who she is and what she wants in life.

When Sax speaks with girls today, he asks how many have a Facebook page, and the majority of hands in the room go up. Almost all have posted something to Facebook in the last 24 hours. When asked if any kept a diary (bound or on their laptop), only a few hands went up. Facebook pages matter enormously more than the diary.

Consider this: Girls post 500 percent more photos on Facebook than boys. While a guy might post a picture of the football game, a girl is much more likely to post a picture of herself (after Photoshopping it to make sure she looks good).

"Recent research indicates that the more time girls spend on Facebook and the more Facebook friends she has, the more likely she is to be anxious," said Sax. "Imagine your 13-year-old daughter alone in her room with her laptop looking at her friends' Facebook pages. All of their pictures and posts are about fun things they are doing. Your daughter may decide that her own life isn't so great. She doesn't realize that all the other girls are only posting the fun stuff because nobody will 'like' the boring stuff."

The more time a girl spends on Facebook trying to entertain her friends, the more likely she is to be anxious and depressed.

"Twenty years ago, the danger for children lurked outside the home," said Sax. "In today's world if your child is going to bed with a cellphone and/or laptop, they could be hanging out with pretty unpleasant people, and you wouldn't know it."

Sax believes that while the principles of good parenting have not changed, the tactics of good parenting have changed.

"Parents have to break out of the mindset of 20 years ago," he said. "Young people need structure, which technology is undermining. And they need a good night's sleep. Young people do not have the maturity to do this for themselves."

Sax will give a free talk at Girls Preparatory School on Tuesday, April 3, at 6:30 p.m. in Frierson Theater.

Email Julie Baumgardner at julieb@firstthings.org.

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