You are reading this blog post because you know a St Catherine's student. You might be her aunt or a family friend, maybe a neighbour, or you were once the cool, hip babysitter who taught her all the words to Disney songs and let her eat ice cream after bedtime then expertly destroyed any evidence.
Regardless of how you know them, you have a job to do. You need to be the 'feisty older woman' in this student's life. Psychologist Steve Biddulph argues that young women are facing serious mental health problems in their teens. There are a lots of reasons why – the mainstream media, social media, smart phones, cyber bullying, crazy body image issues. But there's one interesting factor that doesn't get much of a mention – teenage girls don't have as many aunts these days.
From 1950–65 the birth rate was between 3–3.7 children per woman. They were the baby boomers. So the children of baby boomers (of which I am one) had on average two aunts/uncles on either side. I remember in my high school years I spent a lot of time with my two aunts.
Mums are amazing, I say this as one and as the daughter of one. But sometimes you don't want to have 'that' conversation with your mum, especially not between the ages of, say, 13 –17. You want to ask a woman who is not one of your friends, because you know they may not entirely have your best interests at heart. For instance, one lunchtime at school I was told "You should totally still throw the party even if your dad said 'No!'". Not sage advice. What you really want is someone a little older, a little wiser, but not necessarily as protective and directly concerned about you as your mum – teenage girls need 'aunts', they need 'feisty older women' in their lives.
But the problem is, birth rates have gone down. The birth rate since 1975 has dropped from 2.15 down to 1.9 in 1985. So this, and the next generation of teenage girls don't have aunts at the ready, armed with advice that is both empathetic, safe, and nurturing.
In the social emotional and wellbeing testing we do at school I have also noticed this trend. In response to the statement "Outside of my school and family there is an adult who reminds me to try my hardest to be successful and act responsibly", our students' responses vary depending on their year group. Our Year 7s have the lowest response rate – only between 71–73 per cent of Year 7 students agree with this statement. However, the responses increase as they approach Year 9. The national average is generally lower than our students, except in the case of Year 7. So if you know a Year 7 St Cath's student, please become part of her aunt army.
Percentage of positive responses to the statement. 2018 Year 12 is represented by the grey line, Year 11, blue, Year 10 orange. Yellow is the national average.
If more Year 7s and 8s had feisty older women to support them as they enter the 'dark and twisty' Years 9 and 10, they might be able to navigate them with greater resilience and perspective.
So here is your mission – spend some time with your favourite St Cath's teen. Have coffee, talk about stuff. Ask questions that can't be answered with a yes or no. Take them for a driving lesson if they're learners, go to a cooking class, watch a movie. Get a poke bowl, or a hot chocolate (probably not at the same time as that would be gross). Start a WhatsApp chat, check in on them occasionally. You are not a spy, you're not feeding back to mum and dad, you're a friend. You might already be a PANK (Professional Aunt, No Kids) so chances are you have this role sorted!
Daisy Turnbull BrownDirector of Positive Psychology | History TeacherB Arts B Com Grad Dip Ed MA (Theology)Follow our dedicated Positive Psychology Twitter account: @StCathsPosPsy
A private Anglican day and boarding school for girls, Kindergarten to Year 12. Founded in 1856,
in the eastern suburbs of Sydney.
26 Albion Street Waverley
NSW 2024 Australia
Telephone +61 2 8305 6200