TODAY   |  December 22, 2014

Teenage girls under pressure

Feb. 10: TODAY’s Meredith Vieira talks to psychologist Dr. Stephen Hinshaw and 20-year-old college student Liz Funk about ways to help teen girls battle intense social pressures.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: This morning on TODAY'S FAMILY , girls under pressure. If you are the parent of a teenage girl like I am, you know the drill. They face pressures to be smart, athletic, popular and pretty, and those pressures can often result in dangerous consequences like depression and anorexia. Dr. Stephen Hinshaw is a psychologist and author of "The Triple Bind : Saving Our Teenage Girls from Today's Pressures ," and Liz Funk is a 20-year-old college student who wrote " Supergirls Speak Out : Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls ." Good morning to you both.

Ms. LIZ FUNK ("Supergirls Speak Out"): Good morning.

Mr. STEPHEN HINSHAW, PhD (Author, "The Triple Bind"): Thanks for having us on.

VIEIRA: Not at all. Doctor, you know, you've said it is the best of time for young girls because there are so many opportunities, but also the worst because of the kind of pressures that are on them. You refer to it as the "triple bind." What does that mean?

Mr. HINSHAW: Well, so by nature and nurture girls are caregivers. We still socialize them to take care of others. But girls are doing great these days athletically, academically, so we have to train them to be quite competitive. That's a double bind . But the triple bind is the most pernicious aspect. The pressures are unrelenting. And with all the media images out there, even the alternatives have a certain sexualized and feminized look. And so girls are almost constantly looking in a mirror and are cracking under the pressure. The statistics are quite alarming.

TEXT: The Triple Bind 1: Fulfill traditional "girl" expectations 2. Succeed at "boy" goals 3. Conform to narrow standards without alternatives

VIEIRA: Yeah. And we're looking at the things that they're doing, everything from eating disorders to cutting to suicide rates , which have gone up.

Mr. HINSHAW: So we've known for a long time that adolescence is a time of risk for girls . They get more depressed than boys. But the age at which girls are getting depressed is getting younger and younger. The suicide rate among preteen girls went up 76 percent a couple of years ago. Binge eating and cutting are at all-time high rates. So we've known that girls are at risk in adolescence for a long time, but there's a suddenness to some of the dramatic and very troubling statistics.

TEXT: Girls in Danger Up to 20% of girls ages ten to nineteen are experiencing major depression The number of teen suicides among girls ages 10-14 jumped 76% between 2003 - 2004 10% of high school aged girls attempted suicide in 2005

VIEIRA: And, Liz , you have lived this yourself. I mean, in high school you had an eating disorder because of the pressures you were under. In college things got even worse , didn't they?

Ms. FUNK: Yes. Regrettably, I consider myself to be a model example of what I call a "supergirl," a young woman who wants to be smart and be pretty and be nice and have friends; but who, regrettably, is really struggling with all of the pressures . In high school I had no understanding of why I mattered. I wanted nothing more to be smart and to be accomplished. And because of that, I struggled with anorexia and exercise addiction and overeating. And although I luckily recovered and was able to become healthy again, I wasn't exactly happy. And in college, as I was trying to get my writing career off the ground and trying to get a 4.0 GPA , I had quite a meltdown and was struggling with depression. And it really required me to come face-to-face with myself and, you know, take a second look how I was living my life and find a new meaning to what I was doing.

TEXT: Girls in Danger Close to 5% of U.S. teenage girls and young women suffer from an eating disorder 51% of 9 and 10 year-olds report feeling better about themselves when dieting The use of diet pills among teens nearly doubled between 2000 - 2005

VIEIRA: And find an intrinsic value in yourself, as well.

Ms. FINK: Yes, definitely. I think today's young women are trying to find themselves in very superficial models of their value. They try to find themselves in their grades and their looks, even in their boyfriends. And because of this, they have no sense of why they matter.

VIEIRA: Well, why do some girls crack under the pressure, Doctor, and others don't?

Mr. HINSHAW: Well, we know that the conditions we're talking about have a genetic vulnerability, so not everyone's at equal risk, given your family history , given early experience. But one metaphor in the triple bind is what if we put our teenager daughters -- or sons, for that matter -- in a very well sealed room full of tobacco smoke . Everyone would get ill to some extent, but those with genetic risk for cancer would be those with the most salient disorders.

VIEIRA: And you say it is society's problem, and the solution is a societal one as well?

Mr. HINSHAW: Well, we have to first talk about this problem. I grew up in a home with very serious mental illness . My father was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder for many years. We have to talk about it and recognize it. We have to get clinical care for those girls who need it. But importantly, we have to get girls into self-discovery, not just padding on their resumes; a wider sense of purpose.