This Women’s History Month, our thoughts are on the teen girls of today, and how we are going to support them into becoming the history makers of tomorrow

March is Women’s History Month – designated by presidential proclamation each year to honor the contributions women have made in American history. As we look back to the past and celebrate those achievements, however, it’s also important to pay attention to the women who will lead us in our future – today’s teen girls.

Just two weeks ago, the Center for Disease Control published a study on youth mental health that showcases an alarming trend for our girls and young women: 57% of U.S. teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 – double that of boys. This represents a nearly 60% increase since the previous report, and the highest level reported over the past decade.

The report acknowledges that there are many factors that play into this data, including race and ethnicity, housing stability, and whether young people identify as LGBTQ+, yet the most stark increases in sadness and violence were in young women. There are many theories about why this is happening, including the loneliness created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the pressures brought on by social media and the accompanying bullying, worries about school shootings, and the policing of their bodies and clothing.

While it’s important to identify these root causes in order to address their impact long-term, there are also immediate ways to help these young women survive and thrive to become the leaders and change-makers of tomorrow. One hopeful note in the report is that school connectedness – defined as feeling close to people at school – has a long-lasting, protective impact for adolescents well into adulthood on almost all the behaviors and experiences included in the report.

That means that we can reduce the number of girls who feel persistently hopeless by making them feel safer and more supported in school. One way to do this is to increase the number of caring adults in their lives, including through academic mentors. Boston Partners in Education is already providing this support to 415 students in one-on-one or small group matches. Of those, 201 identify as girls or non-binary. My dream is to see those numbers increase dramatically over the next three years, to provide even more young people with the protective effects of connection and belonging.

In the meantime, we are working to make sure that our volunteer mentors are trained to effectively support all of the youth we work with in schools. On February 28th, we offered the first part of a two-part training on youth mental health and resiliency, called “Meeting Students Where They Are.” Led by Kat Castañeda, a licensed social worker and experienced facilitator, the training is designed to increase mentors’ awareness of common youth mental health struggles and the many opportunities mentors have to support their resilience in the face of these challenges.

It is our privilege to be a small piece of our students’ lives, and to help them overcome their struggles however we are able. This Women’s History Month, my thoughts are on the teen girls of today, and how we are going to support them into becoming the history makers of tomorrow.

Erin M. McGrath

Executive Director, BPIE