Nearly three in four 14-year-olds who admitted self-harming were girls – study
Gender inequality, poverty, body image and social media usage has been linked to poor mental health and wellbeing among teenage girls.
Nearly three-quarters of 14-year-olds in the UK who told a survey they had self-harmed were girls, according to a new study.
The findings from a survey of more than 11,000 children reveal around 15% of them had hurt themselves on purpose in the previous year.
Among them, 73% were girls while 27% were boys.
Researchers from the University of Warwick say 14-year-old girls have become “the new high-risk group”, with a combination of factors such as gender inequality, poverty, body image and social media usage playing a role.
The researchers say the current system, that makes schools responsible for supporting children with mental health issues without sufficient resources and training, is not working and are calling for better prevention strategies.
Dr Dimitra Hartas from the Centre for Education Studies at the University of Warwick, said: “Current policy places the onus to resolve inequality on individuals, such as young people, teachers and parents.
“Young people respond by focusing more on the self and less on the societal structures likely to promote mental ill health.
“Girls and young women tend to internalise systemic problems and blame themselves.
“A good starting point for appropriate public health and education strategies is to understand the pernicious consequences of gender inequality and poverty for young people’s wellbeing.”
A good starting point for appropriate public health and education strategies is to understand the pernicious consequences of gender inequality and poverty for young people's wellbeing Dr Dimitra Hartas
The data on self-harm was collected from the 2015 Millennium Cohort Study, a research project following the lives of 19,000 children born in the UK between 2000 and 2001.
In the study, published in the journal Research Papers in Education, girls were also found to be far more more likely (79%) to report a low sense of their own value, including poor self-image, compared to boys (21%).
And more than four in five (78%) of them reported depressive characteristics and low mood compared to one in five boys (22%).
The study also found teenagers from low-income families were significantly (48%) more likely to report low life satisfaction than those from the wealthy homes.
Social media also had negative consequences for 14-year-olds, with young people spending more than five hours a day online reporting lower life satisfaction compared to those spending less than two hours.
However, researchers also identified links between positive parenting and good mental health, where self-harm and negative outlooks decreased in boys and girls who were emotionally close to their parents.
According to Dr Hartas, this may be because vigilant parents are more likely to alert children to the possibility of risk and violence.