I’m only 32, says Elle Hunt in The Guardian, but I’m “profoundly grateful not to be a girl today”. Sure, when I was a teenager all the “time-honoured” challenges were there: depression, bullying, eating disorders, and so on. But the fact that I didn’t have ready access to the internet made things so much easier. My “social media” was largely confined to MSN Messenger; home could still be a “sanctuary from school, offering respite from the social politics and anxiety”. Today, every young person with a phone has a “secretive and unceasing online life”. The sense of adolescence as a competition – to be the prettiest, the thinnest, the most popular – has been “put on steroids”.
It’s not just the personal stuff. For young people today, it is becoming impossible to shut out “threats from the world at large”. Among twentysomethings, there is a “palpable and persistent anxiety” that they’re not doing enough to address climate change – they have swallowed the Greta Thunberg line that children are not just “our future”, but “responsible for securing it for the rest of us”. Similarly, social media has made girls hyper-aware about sexual politics and rape culture, with TikTok users serving up “dating red flags” and giving advice on identifying “love-bombers, narcissists, abusers and other ‘toxic’ men”. Nowhere is this more apparent than pop music. Olivia Rodrigo, 20, sings about not being “pretty enough”; 21-year-old Billie Eilish’s songs deal with climate anxiety, sexual abuse and death. It’s miserable. As Taylor Swift said of young women: “Give them back their girlhoods – it was theirs first.”