Why are teenage girls self-harming more than boys?

I was on the M25 motorway last week listening the radio, as I do most mornings, when I heard a doctor being interviewed about the increase in teenage girls self-harming. A study published in the British Medical Journal highlighted some startling statistics about self-harm. The study found that the rate of self-harm was 3 times higher in girls compared with boys and also rose by 68% in girls aged 13 to 16 from 2011 to 2014. This really is disturbing.

Of course, this had my interest piqued, as I am about all things female and what will make our lives better as may know from my book: Octopus on a Treadmill; Women, Success, Health Happiness. I also believe in Marcus Aurelius’ statement: “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts”.

So, what exactly are these girls thinking that is leading them to self-harm? Also, what are we teaching the boys that makes them 3 times less likely to self-harm that we are not teaching the girls? The world operates on a male default, and while some have made it our lifetime’s ambitions to redress this balance, this is not going to happen overnight. In the meantime, how can we empower the girls to act differently and view their problems differently?

These days we blame all our social ills on social media and while that does play a part, being anatomically attached to your phone during all your waking hours does not necessarily drive you to self-harm, unless there is something fundamentally wrong with your thought processes. Technology only facilitates the human behaviour. If we have the psychological safeguards in place, then regardless of whether girls encounter (challenges online or in person) they will be well equipped to deal with it.

Why is self-harm being deployed as tool by young girls to manage their life’s challenges? For those of us that are parents, are we bringing up children with a robust self-esteem to be able to take on the challenges of life in their stride without having to resort to self-harm?

Life is hard. I am not saying this to be negative, it is fact. If you set out to achieve anything, you have to wake up everyday and thrust yourself in front of your challenges, pick yourself up when you fall, and keep putting one foot in front of the other until you achieve your life’s goals. With all that effort, sometimes you don’t achieve those goals and you have to regroup, rinse and repeat. Such is the rhythm of life. No one gets to live on easy street, we all have to graft, and we all have to overcome disappointment and heartbreak along the way.

The question therefore is what makes one person keep going and the other just cave in and resort to self-harm? Why do some people intrinsically know that they have what it takes to deal with their challenges and other don’t?

From my point of view, it depends what you think about what is happening and what you think, depends on your self-esteem. As one person is thinking: “Here is where the fun begins” and rolls up their sleeves to engage in the battle, another person is thinking: “Why does this always happen to me,” as they crawl under the duvet to block out the daylight and wallow.

I used to be of the latter persuasion and have spent a lifetime battling this tendency. I have had to work on the skills required to manage my thoughts to make me believe I have what it takes to stand up to my challenges. With age I have also come to realise that sh*t happens to everyone, not just me.

With the exception of people who are mentally ill and require medication to function, most people just need to choose to engage in the battle, and therein lies the problem. Unless you are looking after yourself physically, mentally emotionally and spiritually, you will not have the wherewithal to make that choice.

This is where I think we are failing our children. We will fight to get them into the best schools and make sure they have the right friends, the right after school clubs etc but that is only one side of the story. You can have all those things and still not think you are worth it and be riddled with anxiety.

So back to our girls; are we arming them with the tools to make the right choices when it comes to their life challenges? What are we telling the boys that we are not telling girls? What expectations are we heaving on their poor slender shoulders that the boys are being allowed to get away with? Are we bringing them up to believe that they are more than:

  • What they have
  • What they do
  • What other people think about them


I will leave you to chew on that.