I recently read with interest details of a report produced by the Department of Education into the wellbeing of teenage girls. The study showed an increase in psychological distress, anxiety and depression among 14-year-old girls when compared with a study done back in 2005. Even if you aren’t aware of the report, my guess is that you will be more than familiar with the picture it paints, if not about yourself then certainly about your peer group.
I have two reactions to this study. The first is that it grieves me greatly. The second is that it doesn’t surprise me. In fact, I would be far more surprised if it were not the case. Why is this?
Although there are many things that can be said to add to our happiness, foundational to mental wellbeing is the sense of security which comes from being loved unconditionally. Each of us has a basic need for security, and it is natural that it should begin with those who are – or at least those who should be – closest to us in all the world: our mother and father. This is especially so when it comes to the relationship of a girl to her father. A lady once told me that in the years after her father died, and before she met her husband, one of her overwhelming feelings was of a loss of security and a heightened sense of vulnerability.
Put simply, a girl who sees her father every day and knows that he loves her unconditionally, is likely to have a deep sense of security in her identity, which in turn gives her a genuine sense of wellbeing. She doesn’t need to constantly try to reinvent herself. She doesn’t crave the approval of her peer group. She doesn’t need to constantly try to fix herself. She knows she is loved for who she is, and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that.
On the other hand, a girl who does not have that same sense of trust and security is far more likely to display some of the symptoms of psychological distress that the Department of Education report uncovers. She is also more likely to seek security and wellbeing elsewhere, often in places and ways that instead of bringing her what she craves, end up having the opposite effect.
You might say these are generalisations and I would agree. I’m sure you could find examples on either side which “disprove” what I have said. Nevertheless, I am confident that as a general rule, the girls with the least psychological anxieties will be those who not only have a father in their home, but one who shows them unconditional love and affection, whilst the ones with the most psychological anxieties mentioned in the study are likely to be those who do not have this.
The reason that I am not surprised to see this increase in psychological problems is simply that there are fewer and fewer girls that have fathers like this in the home. Why is this? The main reason is that for the last few decades, a very powerful and destructive campaign has been waged by government, the media, advertisers and corporations to break up the family. They have been hugely successful, to the point where the likelihood of finding a family where a loving father is present throughout the whole childhood of boys and girls is now way less likely than it was when I was your age. They have even succeeded in making many of the intact families far more dysfunctional than they once would have been.
Astonishingly, this campaign has been waged under the cloak of being in your interests. Yet the increase in psychological distress being reported in studies such as the Department of Education report suggest that this is not at all the case.
Unfortunately, many will continue to try to sell girls of your age ways to happiness and wellbeing which are bound to fail. More qualifications. A better career. More money. More independence. The right body shape. Fashionable clothes. More friends on Facebook. And as always the Government can be relied on to let you know that the way to fix deep-rooted problems like this is with more money (they have already responded to the study by saying that they are “putting a record £1.4 billion into transforming the dedicated mental health support available to young people across the country and are working to strengthen the links between schools and mental health services”).
But the answer isn’t found in money, or in qualifications, or in getting the right body shape. The answer is in rebuilding the foundations that have been destroyed, so that in the future girls and boys might know the unconditional love and security of having a father and a mother that love them and would give their lives for them.
If you are a girl who has had that kind of unconditional love and security, then give thanks and rejoice. If you are a girl who has not known it, and who is suffering from some of the problems mentioned in the report, please know that there is a Father in heaven who, the Bible says, “will never leave you nor forsake you,” if you put your trust and security in him.
But whichever category you fit into, my hope is that you and your peer group will come to see the tragic mistakes that have been made over the last 50 years, and that instead of continuing the destruction of the family, you will begin to see the importance of rebuilding it. If that happens, I am confident that studies done in 20 or 30 years will see a marked decline in the psychological problems that are afflicting girls right now.
(Image: Nan Palmero)