THE world of 14-year-old girls has been detailed by a well-known Brisbane journalist who says “expectation inflation” is placing serious pressure on young women.
Madonna King, who is a mother of two Catholic school girls in Brisbane, has written Being 14 – a book based on interviews of almost 200 14-year-old girls across the country.
Ms King also spoke with principals, teachers, police, counsellors, social researchers and parents to learn more about an age in which girls are “in the eye of the storm”.
And she said resilience was central to developing young women who could cope with a changing world.
“I went to a conference in New York for girls’ schools and, across five days, they didn’t mention homework, bullying or academic excellence once – it was all about resilience and leadership,” Ms King said.
“They were focused on teaching girls to grow up in a global village.
“The challenge is to get across to some parents that an education is more than an OP1. Some parents think the OP1 is the be-all and end-all. It’s about being well-rounded.
“These girls of today are different to my generation – social media follows them to bed, they are involved in so many extra-curricular activities and they’re expected to perform very well academically.”
Being 14 looks at expectation inflation – a term coined by social researchers to describe how unintended expectations are being placed on a generation that is twice as likely as their parents to go to university.
That expectation has been a factor in some of the 22,000 calls to Kids Helpline over the past four years from 14-year-old girls.
Ms King said she hadn’t planned to write a book on 14-year-old girls but the topic kept coming up in her travels.
“In the space of about a month, in different situations, I was warned about the challenges for girls at age 14 – these came from a group of Year 12 students, a 45-year-old mother and then a grandmother,” she said.
“This group of girls gets such a bad wrap. But they aren’t bad. They say it’s like being stuck in a washing machine.
“When I started looking into it, I found this wasn’t something particular to girls in a certain demographic. It was common from A students to girls who weren’t so academically minded.”
Ms King said several insights surprised her:
Ms King interviewed Jon Rouse, the head of Taskforce Argos which tracks down online sexual predators: “He says the current crop of parents needs to step outside their comfort zones to learn how smart devices work. The device or the app aren’t dangerous – it’s the way they’re used. He said: ‘I know where my daughter is at any given time with Find My Friends … But are mums and dads even aware that (the Find My Friends app) even exists on a phone?’”
“I was really interested to learn that 14-year-old girls need 9 hours 15 minutes (sleep) and if they don’t get that, it can mean a drop in their IQ level of 10 points. So, a C would become a D, an A would become a B and so on. They need that amount of sleep two nights in a row so their short-term memory is working well.”
“The pressure on students at private schools is slightly higher. Expectations from parents are higher. Parents want a larger say in how their children are being taught. The school is teaching resilience and leadership and they know what they are talking about. It’s about more than OP1s.”
Being 14 by Madonna King: https://www.hachette.com.au/madonna-king/being-14
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 or www.kidshelpline.com.au
By Michael Crutcher