This morning we had Dr. Gail Saltz and Atoosa Rubenstein on the show to talk about the increasing pressure on teenaged girls. The segment had a quick tape spot setting it up and then was a live dialogue with Natalie. I caught up with both Gail and Atoosa in the greenroom afterwards to ask them if there was anything that they didn't have time to discuss. No surprise that they both had a lot more to say...
Gail started by telling me that the suicide rate in teens has risen 18% from 2004 to 2005 (those are the most recent numbers to be released), which is clearly a huge increase. That increase is inevitably the result of many factors, but one of those factors, in Dr. Gail's opinion, is the increasing pressure that kids feel today. Atoosa turned to Gail and said, "Remember when we were fourteen? I was skipping play practice. Now fourteen-year-olds are getting internships!" Keep reading for some q & a with our guests:
Liz: So one question I have is we're putting a lot of emphasis on increased pressure for girls - but are teenage boys feeling this increase as well? What's different about the pressure girls feel?
Gail: Body image. Girls feel an added pressure to look and dress a certain way to mimic the "role models" they're seeing like Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan. Boys care about how they look too, but it's not nearly to the extent or degree that most girls care.
Atoosa: Girls are also much more caught up in the media about it. They're reading the weekly magazines, and those magazines use headlines on their covers that don't necessarily reflect what's inside: this week alone there were headlines about getting the perfect legs, the perfect boyfriend or the perfect spring wardrobe.
Liz: I have four neighbors from home that I used to babysit, and now they're all hitting the teen years - the oldest is a freshman in college. I care a lot about them, but sometimes I find it hard to talk about issues without feeling like I'm lecturing them. How do you spark that dialogue as a parent or a mentor without alienating a teen?
Gail: Ask questions. Ask them why they like a certain celebrity or look. Ask them to explain things to you.
Atoosa: Also, add in comments from your own life. Sometimes if you bombard a teenager with questions they'll feel attacked, but if you put something out there from your life, then they feel better about sharing.
Liz: So what is really the deal with all of this pressure? Where is it coming from?
Atoosa: It's coming from a lot of places, but one thing that I notice is that parents today are very focused on doing parenting "right". It's great that parents want to be involved, but what ends up happening is that all of their focus adds pressure onto their kids. Parents are also competitive with each other, which can also indirectly put pressure on kids to feel they need to support their parents by their behavior.
Atoosa: Another thing I'm seeing is that girls who grew up feeling a lot of pressure to succeed and be the best ended up choosing less competitive or intense career paths - they had had enough.
Gail: We don't want kids burning out in high school...
Atoosa: So to all the parents out there - the kids that start off skipping play practice end up on the Today Show!
You can read more on what Atoosa has to say in her own blog here, and an article by Dr. Gail Saltz on our sister website iVillage here.