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Laura Perrins: Pressure to ‘have it all’ drives teenage girls to the brink


On Saturday The Times informed us that the very prestigious Cheltenham Ladies’ College is considering banning homework to ease the pressure on their students and ‘stem an “epidemic” of teenage mental illness.’

The principal, Ms Jardine-Young, said that “she was deeply concerned by what she regarded as a crisis of adolescent stress and unhappiness. The average age at which depression was first diagnosed had almost halved from 29 in the 1960s to 15 1/2 early this century.”

The Sunday Times, a day later, informed us of The Girls’ Day School Trust conference that will see the launch of a plan to harness the mentoring skills of the 60,000 former pupils of the schools represented there. The aim will be to help more women into executive posts.

“The former pupils who join up will be asked to mentor ambitious women at three key points in their careers: their early twenties, when they are starting their working lives; the point when they decide to start a family; and in their forties and fifties, when they decide to pursue a top post.

“A pilot project has already found that such mentoring prevents young women from leaving the workplace when they have children, helping to divert them from a slow “mummy track” and onto the fast track to the boardroom.”

This is a much needed scheme because we all know that leaving the work place when you have children (even for a short time) is a fate worse than death and must be opposed whether these women want to spend time with their children or not.

I do wonder if there is a link between projects that ‘encourage’ teenage girls to ‘reach for the stars’ and aim for executive business posts, no less, and the sea of teenage angst that sweeps all before it. I mean for goodness sake, give these girls some time.

No wonder there is a crisis in teenage mental health. Adults keep dumping so much pressure on teenagers – in this case to improve the feminist equality spreadsheet – is it any wonder they crack.

I am sure the mentors are great and of course support and encouragement can be helpful. But when does ‘support and encouragement’ end and pressure begin? It is a fine line.

I know there are multiple factors contributing to this mental health crisis, such as the ubiquity of social media; the pressure to appear thin and beautiful; the immense pressure to not only achieve wheelbarrows full of A*s, as well as an offer from Oxbridge. In addition to this, our ambitious teenage girl must also eventually secure an executive position all the while remembering to start a family before 30. Dear me, I need a therapist just thinking about it never mind trying to achieve it (which I know I never could but I am robust and understand this is no reflection on my character.)

Finally, this idea that women should be ‘prevented from leaving the workplace when they have children’ sends shivers down my spine (as you would expect). Who the hell made this lot King? Surely this is for the woman herself to decide.

But I sense what these teenage girls and women want is really beside the point. It is, as usual, about the feminist fantasy of having more women on boards – the actual hopes and desires of the women concerned barely matter at all.

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