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What Is Making Young Girls So Vulnerable?

A CDC report and a recent suicide highlight the challenges facing teen girls.

Key points

  • A 2023 CDC report finds that young girls are at higher risk for depression and suicide.
  • In one tragic example, Adriana Kuch, 14, took her own life after an assault at school was posted on TikTok.
  • Bullying may be becoming more widespread in a social media age.

A report published this month from the CDC has put a renewed focus on the vulnerabilities posed to young girls in our culture today. Of note, the report identifies that “teen girls are experiencing record high levels of violence, sadness, and suicide risk” (“U.S. Teen Girls,” 2023, para. 1). In fact, when it came to reporting on suicidal ideation or other mental health challenges, girls fared worse on every indicator relative to boys.

While some of these disparities may reflect a greater willingness for girls to disclose their mental health struggles than their male counterparts, such disparities are also consistent with the stark reality that girls are far more likely to be targets and victims of violence. Moreover, LGBTQ+ teens are a particularly vulnerable subset, facing extremely high levels of violence and challenges to their mental health. Such findings are consistent with research that identifies this group is at heightened risk for being bullied and targeted by their peers.

The recent suicide of 14-years old Adriana Kuch in New Jersey has raised the stakes regarding these trends. News outlets have reported that Kuch was the target of not only a physical attack at school but that the girls who had been bullying her apparently uploaded at least part of the assault on Tik Tok. It was the day after this assault and upload on social media that Kuch took her own life.

While suicide is a complex behavior and rarely the byproduct of just one cause, given the circumstances surrounding Kuch’s tragic demise, it bears reflecting on the cultural factors that pose risks to our young girls, undermining the societal guardrails that should ideally be present to protect our youth as they transition to young adulthood.

The Journal of Youth and Adolescence published a study in 2021 that attempted to unravel the relationship between screen time in emerging adulthood and suicide risk over the past decade (Coyne et al., 2021). When trying to untangle such patterns, as researchers we have to be sensitive in identifying that while trends suggest that suicide risk has increased at a similar pace with screen time, access to digital gadgets, and the explosion of social media consumption, cause and effect cannot be established unless experimental research is designed. This longitudinal research found that a high level of social media or other forms of screen use in adolescence was most predictive of suicide risk in emerging adulthood for young girls in particular.

The underlying psychological processes that mediate this risk includes elevated anxiety and depressive-like symptoms—two risk factors for suicide that are also related to increased screen time among young girls. Specific factors relevant to the recent tragedy regarding Kuch’s suicide include how experiencing cyberbullying can increase suicide risk (Coyne et al., 2021).

In our digital age, bullying that happens in person during school hours often migrates online after hours, as was demonstrated by the Tik Tok video of Kuch’s assault. It is also plausible that bullying that may begin online can escalate in person in cases where the target may be victimized anonymously or not yet know who the perpetrators are.

Another factor that wasn’t measured by the Coyne et al. (2021) research or specifically identified in the CDC report but that merits consideration is how frequent consumption of social media and other forms of digital media may be undermining the empathy and basic social skills of our youth. In lieu of the changes all of us have experienced regarding how we socialize with others since the pandemic, such consideration is paramount.

Many of us were compelled to migrate to online spaces to seek connections with others at the height of the pandemic, and the effects of such encounters would be even more pronounced among young people, who are in a critical period of development regarding their sense of identity and how they understand themselves in relation to others. Such trends leave youth vulnerable not only to becoming victims of bullying, but also perpetrators. There is much literature from the last twenty years identifying increases in narcissism among youth at the same time that downward trends in reported empathy are being measured among adolescents.

The takeaway is that the world our young girls are coming of age in varies considerably from that of other generations. While the risk of violence posed to young girls coming of age is, tragically, not new per se, what is distinct from pre-digital times is that the scale and scope of how young females can be targeted or become ensnared in negative content, harassment, and worse is far greater and widespread than any other time.


The remaining members of the Kuch family are the survivors of this assault on their daughter. Four girls have thus far been charged in connection with the assault against Kuch, and an administrator has resigned (there were allegations that the school had turned a blind eye to bullying prior to this most recent—and tragic—incidence). I send the family my deepest condolences as this story unfolds. It is my hope that by continuing the dialogue in our culture regarding how our young girls need greater protection against these trends, Adriana's death will not be in vain.

Copyright 2023 Azadeh Aalai


Coyne, S.M., Hurst, J.L., Dyer, J. W., Hunt, Q., Schvanaveldt, E., Brown, S., Jones, G. (2021). Suicide Risk in Emerging Adulthood: Associations with Screen Time over 10 years. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 50, 2324-2338.

U.S. Teen Girls Experiencing Increased Sadness and Violence (2023, February 13). CDC: Newsroom. Retrieved on February 19, 2023 from:,reported%20over%20the%20past%20decade.

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