Rise in emotional problems among girls

Posted on 20 April 2015

New research has revealed a 7% rise in the number of school girls with emotional issues.

According to figures published today in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the number of girls at risk of emotional problems rose from 13% in 2009 to 20% in 2014. 

The research which was conducted by University College London (UCL) and the Anna Freud Centre, compared the mental health of 1,683 11-13-year-old boys and girls in 2009 with the same number of pupils in 2014. They were “surprised” by a 7% spike in girls reporting emotional issues while boys’ answers remained fairly stable.

Dr Miranda Wolpert, a director at UCL and the Anna Freud Centre and co-author of the report, said that there were many factors that could have contributed to the rise, including “academic pressure” and “increasing sexualisation and objectification amplified by social media.” 

The increasing risks that girls face online have also been highlighted in the LSE’s Net Children Go Mobile survey published last year.  It found that 23% of girls aged 9-16 years say they have been bothered by something online in the past year - more than doubling from 2010 to 2013 - compared to just 8% of boys who say they have bothered by something online.  Bullying is also having a significant impact on girls, with girls almost twice as likely as boys (29% v 16%) to have experienced bullying in the last 12 months.  Strikingly, since 2010, bullying has decreased among boys (23% v 16%) while increasing among girls (19% v 29%).  This rise comes at a time when cyberbullying has become more common than face-to-face bullying (12% v 9%). 

With online pressures for girls increasing, teachers are now facing the challenge of how to deal with these issues in school.  The report from UCL notes that “effective interventions” are needed in order to address the issue, suggesting staff should be given the right resources to look out for emotional problems.  Alongside this a key policy recommendation in the LSE’s report calls for a gender-sensitive approach to e-safety provision:

“In many ways, the UK is leading in children’s internet safety, adopting both social and technical forms of mediation with vigour. As a result, our findings show that the last few years have seen greater improvements in children’s safety online than is the case in other European countries. Given the considerable multi-stakeholder effort devoted to this task, the present findings suggest these are proving successful. Yet particular groups still need attention – a new gender gap in risk seems to be opening up, with girls more likely to report being bothered or upset by online encounters, necessitating a gender-sensitive approach to safety provision.”

At Childnet we are currently working on two areas of work that will help teachers address some of the key issues that are causing emotional problems faced by girls and boys.  Last year the Government Equalities Office announced £500K worth of funding would be given to the UK Safer Internet Centre to help it to continue its important work supporting children, families and schools. As part of this work Childnet will deliver updated cyberbullying guidance for schools and new educational multimedia resources for PSHE lessons in secondary schools.  With a focus on gender these will both address the effects of social media on girls and boys.  With the aim of trying to build strong, resilient digital citizens the educational resources will cover key topics such as sexting, pornography, cyberbullying and peer pressure.  Due to launch in March 2016, Childnet will be working with a wide range of children’s organisations to ensure the resources support teachers in addressing the pressures young people face today online.  

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