At the high school where I work, I run an after-school group just for girls. We get together every week to talk about issues that are important to them, and the word I hear most often is “pressure.” Girls in this age group are no strangers to societal pressures, as they are surrounded by them in their daily lives and, more often than not, these pressures seep in to their lives at school as well. At our first meeting of the year, I asked the girls to expand on these ideas and tell me, specifically, what they felt were the worst pressures they face at the start of every school year. What follows is the top 5 issues they feel they face every August.
1. The Pressure to Look Perfect
We are all familiar with the back-to-school outfit. Even teachers have been known to go on a shopping trip before the first day of school to pick out something new to wear on the first day the students are in school. However, the pressure to look perfect is particularly bad for teenage girls. By the time they get to middle school, girls have already been looking at magazines that show unattainable, photoshopped images of models. Because of this, they already feel the pressure to be thin and to wear the perfect clothes and have the perfect hair all the time. There is no time when this is more important to them than back-to-school. After three months of not seeing many of their classmates, they feel the need to be sure they look their best in the first weeks of school.
2. The Pressure to Impress Everyone
Once students get to middle and high school, they have up to eight or nine teachers a day. On top of that, this is socially the time when students’ friends are becoming the most important piece of their lives. As if that weren’t enough, this is also the time when students start dating. This can mean that teenage girls feel like they have to impress upwards of 20 or 30 people every day. They need to figure out what each person wants out of them, and who each person expects them to be, and meet those expectations. This would be difficult for anyone, but somehow teenage girls manage to juggle all of these separate expectations.
3. The Pressure to Prioritize
The girls in my group insisted that the pressure to over-commit themselves is one of the biggest pressures they face in high school. It’s at this time that students start to think about college and life beyond that, and they worry that not being involved in enough sports or clubs will hurt their chances at getting into a good school. They also worry that their friends will be angry at them if they choose a different activity over their friend’s favorite. As if that weren’t enough, many students who are already over-committed are also taking Advanced Placement or honors level classes. They are afraid to take a fun class or something they are interested in because they fear retribution for that decision when it comes to the college application process.
4. The Pressure to Be Caregivers
It’s no secret that women are expected to be caregivers in society. This starts early, as soon as we give a little girl a baby doll and a kitchen play set. This expectation grows when girls are teenagers and are asked to babysit their younger siblings. During the summer hours, when the days are long and school is out, caring for younger siblings can easily fit into the schedule. However, when school starts again and parents still need help watching younger children after school, teenage girls who already feel pressured to over-commit themselves are now faced with another choice: help their parents or participate in after school activities.
5. The Pressure to Be Social
Along with the expectation to be caregivers, girls are expected to manage social calendars. Any girl who decides she’d rather stay home with a good book than attend the school dance is then subject to a barrage of persuasive techniques from her friends and family: she’ll regret not going; she’ll miss out on all of her friends; it’s only one evening and she can read her book later. Along with the pressure to be social, there is then the pressure to find a date and a dress, and we’re right back to the beginning with the pressure to look perfect.
Photo Credit: terren in Virginia