Monday, January 24, 2011

Girls on the Edge - Review

Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls-Sexual Identity, the Cyberbubble, Obsessions, Environmental ToxinsI just finished Girls on the Edge. My opinion is that it is a MUST read for anyone who works with, parents, or advises teenage girls and young women. While I don't agree with everything the author says, his premise is solid: young women who develop a solid sense of self are best able to navigate through their teen years into adulthood.

I learned about the book after Jenn tweeted this article to me, knowing that I share her interest in the causes of high risk behavior on college campuses. This quote from the article led me to read the book:
But the best book about the current state of girls and young women in America, Girls on the Edge, by a physician and psychologist named Leonard Sax, offers astonishing and troubling new insight into the role and consequences of binge drinking in so many girls’ lives.
The book is about more than drinking. The author sees drinking, eating disorders and a host of other (some new to me) behaviors he characterizes as obsessive as hallmarks of the same thing - teenage girls lack of a true sense of self:
During my 18 years in that one community (suburban Maryland, outside DC), I saw a growing proportion of girls whose sense of self is defined only in terms of superficials. As a result, these girls are brittle, susceptible to a crack-up with even a mild jolt.
By superficials, he means essentially any trait or activity that is how a girl perceives herself. For example, it can be something obvious like her looks, her wardrobe or her weight, but it can be also the danger of defining herself by one activity or trait, such as the star student, the single-sport athlete, or the drinker. If a young woman defines herself as the best student, and then she doesn't do well in a class, or chooses the wrong college and can't excel, she may fall apart instead of regrouping.

Additionally, I learned a lot of interesting information, like these tidbits:
... researchers have found that girls and young women who drink coffee regularly are much more likely to drink alcohol. Among girls and young women who drink coffee regularly, 70 percent also drink alcohol; among girls and young women who don't drink coffee, only 29 percent drink alcohol. 
Girls who are injured are more likely to be reinjured, compared with boys who suffer the same injury playing the same sport. This is not because girls are more fragile than boys, but because the entire culture of sport has developed around what works for boys, not what works for girls. For example, consider how coaches usually warm up their players before a game. Generations of men have prepared boys before a game by having the boys run a few laps around the track, or doing some jumping jacks or simple stretching exercises. That may be fine for boys, but it's not particularly helpful for girls. For example, sports medicine specialists have discovered that a different warm-up routine should involve, among other things, running bacward while slapping your heels. It doesn't cost any more money or time than the boys' routine. But it's different. When girls do these girl-specific routines before practice and competition, the risk of ACL injury is reduced by 88 percent compared with girls on comparable teams doing the traditional warm-up. 
(Note that 1/4 of the book is the end notes with annotated lists of the sources of all the facts and data he shares.)

The best part about the book, and what makes it so worthwhile to read, is the way he is able to give specific examples of both the pitfalls and obstacles of adolescence today and also ways to avoid and mitigate those dangers. READ THIS BOOK - you won't regret it!


  1. Sounds like an interesting read! I just read what could be seen as a sort of counterpart to this book. Michael Kimmel's Guyland describes the 16-late twenties age group of "guys" stuck somewhere between boy and man and living recklessly before having to settle down. Interesting to see a story that addresses the socialization of women in today's world.

  2. Interesting - I will have to check it out. Before Leonard Sax wrote Girls on The Edge, he wrote Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men

    I haven't read it yet - I wonder how similar it is to Michael Kimmel's Guyland. Sounds like they cover similar ground!


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