When we think about all of the possible outcomes for balancing any gender-based inequities, we rarely talk about the unpleasant possibilities. Do we want auto accident rates for teen girls to reach the same levels as teen boys? How about drug, tobacco, and alcohol use? Shall we advocate for young women to use just as heavily as young men? An article in the Washington Post suggests that this is what is happening.
Teenage girls now equal or outpace teenage boys in alcohol consumption, drug use and smoking, national surveys show. The number of girls entering the juvenile justice system has risen steadily over the past few years. A 2006 study that examined accident rates among young drivers noted that although boys get into more car accidents, girls are slowly beginning to close the gap.
In the article, young women talked about feeling "empowered" because they can choose from myriad colleges and careers and about how that "freedom" extends to partying at clubs, drinking and smoking. Experts worry that those feelings, coupled with a teen's natural sense of invincibility, can be a potent and dangerous combination. One teen in particular remarked "In the past, people have had this angelic picture, but girls are just as bad as boys are. We do what we want to do, when we want to do it. I live for now," she said, a grin spreading across her face. "It's great to be a girl."
The article goes on to offer some possible explanations. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that girls have taken to heart a message that there aren't reasons why they can't do what boys do---both good and bad. Maybe the change in role models is having a great impact. Or, drugs and alcohol could be coping mechanisms for living with increased stress.
Whatever the reasons, we need to find ways to support both young men and women toward making healthy choices for their future.