Girls on the Brink

Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media

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Pub Date 13 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 31 Jan 2023

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15 “simple but powerful” (The New York Times Book Review) strategies for raising emotionally healthy girls, based on cutting-edge science that explains the modern pressures that make it so difficult for adolescent girls to thrive

“This is a brave and important book; the challenging stories—both personal and scientific—will make you think, and, hopefully, act.”—Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD, New York Times bestselling co-author of What Happened to You?

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post, Mashable

Anyone caring for girls today knows that our daughters, students, and girls next door are more anxious and more prone to depression and self-harming than ever before. The question that no one has yet been able to credibly answer is Why?

Now we have answers. As award-winning writer Donna Jackson Nakazawa deftly explains in Girls on the Brink, new findings reveal that the crisis facing today’s girls is a biologically rooted phenomenon: the earlier onset of puberty mixes badly with the unchecked bloom of social media and cultural misogyny. When this toxic clash occurs during the critical neurodevelopmental window of adolescence, it can alter the female stress-immune response in ways that derail healthy emotional development.

But our new understanding of the biology of modern girlhood yields good news, too. Though puberty is a particularly critical and vulnerable period, it is also a time during which the female adolescent brain is highly flexible and responsive to certain kinds of support and scaffolding. Indeed, we know now that a girl’s innate sensitivity to her environment can, with the right conditions, become her superpower. Jackson Nakazawa details the common denominators of such support, shedding new light on the keys to preventing mental health concerns in girls as well as helping those who are already struggling. Drawing on insights from both the latest science and interviews with girls about their adolescent experiences, the author carefully guides adults through fifteen “antidote” strategies to help any teenage girl thrive in the face of stress, including how to nurture the parent-child connection through the rollercoaster of adolescence, core ingredients to building a sense of safety and security for your teenage girl at home, and how to foster the foundations of long-term resilience in our girls so they’re ready to face the world.

Neuroprotective and healing, the strategies in Girls on the Brink amount to a new playbook for how we—parents, families, and the human tribe—can secure a healthy emotional inner life for all of our girls.
15 “simple but powerful” (The New York Times Book Review) strategies for raising emotionally healthy girls, based on cutting-edge science that explains the modern pressures that make it so difficult...

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Featured Reviews

Girls on the Brink is a great read for anyone who knows and cares about girls today. Jackson Nakazawa does a great job making accessible the science behind why girls are struggling so much with their mental health today. I appreciated that she provided concrete things individuals can do to support the girls in our lives, while also emphasizing the fact that to truly fix these problems requires societal change. Highly recommend!

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Donna Jackson Nakazawa does it again with her upcoming book, Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media. She blends real-life situations with scientific knowledge and analysis. And concluding the book with strong antidotes goes a long way to helping parents and mentors counter the toxicity of girls’ everyday lives.

Jackson Nakazawa breaks the content into three distinct sections: explaining the situation, exploring the science, and offering fifteen achievable antidotes. Through it all, she uses the lives of three young women to illustrate her points and balance science with reality.

This is a must-read for every parent, teacher, and health care professional. Jackson Nakazawa has already published several books about science, medicine, and brain health using women’s experiences and perspectives. Now she turns her eyes to the next generation. Considering the prominence of cyberbullying, among other concerns, the choice makes perfect sense.

Adverse versus Positive Childhood Experiences
Jackson Nakazawa previously wrote about the science behind adverse childhood experiences (ACES) in Childhood Disrupted. Significant ACES affect our lifelong health. But, here she revisits that information as it happens rather than decades down the line. By describing the lives of those three young women, the author illustrates the short-term impact of absentee parents, poverty, childhood sexual abuse, as well as other situations.

Conversely, Jackson Nakazawa also discusses the impact of positive mentors and community, such as teachers and nurturing social situations. Hopefully, seeing girls’ lives from this perspective will inspire more adults to truly listen to and support the young women in their lives.

Puberty and Hormones
Girls’ early teen years are made more complicated by the hormonal changes they experience. And girls experience puberty even earlier now. This means that the time between childhood and the teen years accelerates. Coping with the change is a struggle for girls and their families. Jackson Nakazawa shines the light of information and antidotes into this space.

It’s also worth noting that social media and popular culture over-sexualize girls and teens. The back-to-school styles are more provocative than ever. Girls judge themselves against adult influencers on TikTok and every other platform. Jackson Nakazawa explains why this is concerning and offers better ways to approach it with our girls.

My Conclusions
This book is full to the brim with information and ideas. Attempting to summarize every point would only do it a disservice. But as I worked my way through it, Jackson Nakazawa offered invaluable insights. Most importantly, she reminds us to listen to girls and provide them a safe space to talk out their challenges.

Jackson Nakazawa’s other books tell her own story, which also illustrates an important point. She repeatedly encourages parents, especially mothers, to deal with their ACES and trauma. Not only does it model positive behavior for girls, but it also helps keep the temperature down when girls’ teenage issues heat up.

It’s also worth saying that the author’s perspective is a feminist one. She reminds us that girls’ rights are human rights. And we as adults made this world, which challenges kids today, especially girls. That attitude resonates with my own and enhances Girls on the Brink.

Jackson Nakazawa is a mom as well as an author, so she’s got skin in the game. That adds to her nuanced understanding of 21st-century girls and teen life. This book is essential reading for moms, dads, grandparents, favorite aunts, and anyone who influences a girl’s life. Pick up a few extra to give as holiday gifts—I know I am.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Penguin Random House, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review. The expected publication date for this book is September 13, 2022.

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I’m a big fan of Donna Jackson Nakazawa's work. As a holistic psychotherapist, I routinely recommend her books to clients and friends and am excited about Girls on the Brink. Donna has a straightforward and warm writing style and a knack for translating scientific concepts into accessible language. Drawing from cutting edge neuroscience, she reveals the biological and emotional effects of the significant stressors girls face in our society today. This stress has led to an increase in anxiety, depression, and self-harm. Donna shares examples and, with thoughtful sensitivity, walks us through the many emotional challenges our girls struggle with in a society not often supportive of, and that at times undermines, girls’ healthy development. In this hopeful book, Donna offers 15 powerful and simple strategies that parents, relatives, and professionals can immediately put into practice to help girls foster strong self-worth, emotional connectedness with self and others, and feelings of inner and outer safety. If you’re a parent or have girls in your life, buy this book right now! It’s an essential resource for your girls’ wellbeing.

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As a Psychologist, I work with young adult females that are struggling with a lot of anxiety. This book does a masterful job of presenting the multitude of issues that girls and young adults face today and have been facing in the past 10 years. Not only does it go through and explains the various challenges that girls face today, but it also provides thoughtful antidotes. This is a great book for parents, aunts, educators, therapists, nurses, primary care physicians, or just about anyone really, to read.

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