It is widely reported that it’s hard being a teenage girl these days, and that mental illness is on the increase; but many of us who used to be teenage girls don't remember it ever being easy. We worried about friendships, we were infuriated with parents, we fell in love and were ignored or rejected, we regularly felt stupid or useless at school. At the same time, though, we were excited about music, fashion, politics, travelling; we hoped and dreamed about our futures; we read, talked, spent time with elderly relations; we cooked, volunteered, played sport, found ourselves a part-time job; we got into awkward situations and we got out of them again.
Teenage girls still do all these things but it is not the life they see reflected back at them. This is not just the fault of celebrity Instagram feeds or the all-pervasive tropes of social media as a whole. Websites, YouTube channels and magazines aimed specifically at teenage girls generally focus on a narrow range of pieces about beauty, fashion and relationships; any advice about teenage cooking, teenage travel, teenage health or teenage education is generally aimed at parents, not teenagers themselves. On the one hand teenage girls are expected to cope in an increasingly complex world, on the other they are disenfranchised. No wonder that they can feel bewildered and frustrated.
Our new website aims to change this. It talks directly, honestly, and unpatronisingly to teenage girls about everything they may come across in their lives – from changing their hairstyle to changing a light bulb to changing the world. It shows them what they can do themselves to make their lives better, in big ways and small. It gives advice on their future careers, and on songs to listen to after a break up. It tells them how to make a pizza, and how to start a petition.
And what has all this got to do with girls’ mental health and wellbeing? Everything. Mental health is not a separate, small aspect of life; it affects and is affected by everything we do. We all flourish better if there is a balance in our lives, if we feel empowered and enabled to do things for ourselves, and if we realise that we are not alone in the way we think or feel. We want to show girls that there are all sorts of things they can do with their lives, and how to do them; we want to show them what to do when things go wrong; we want to show them that other girls have felt disappointed with friends or nervous in new situations or absolutely furious with their parents. We want to be beside them, to inform, advise, reassure and inspire them, to help them build emotional resilience and confidence in their abilities.
Of course, there is no guarantee against mental illness, and our website contains substantial and specific information on this as well. We help girls to identify mental illness (in themselves and others), and tell them how to get help if they need it. We worked closely with Virginia Mallin, a psychotherapist who has huge experience of dealing with teenage girls and a passionate commitment to mental health in young people; her pages show girls how to tune into their inner emotional voice, and how to take ownership of their mind and feelings.
We believe that Agnes has the potential to do a lot of good and will help to change lives for the better. We’d love it to become a trusted resource that can accompany girls throughout their teenage years.