When it comes to examining the effects of stress in men and women, the time around adolescence seems to be a critical point when gender differences emerge. It has been observed on several occasions that girls appear to have higher rates of stressors than boys. A heightened sensitivity to social status, acceptance by others and success with romance are all potential stressors. Girls are also more vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence and become more aware of this as they mature physically.
Attractiveness is a key issue for many adolescent girls. There is immense social pressure to conform to an ideal body shape. This, combined with an increasing need for intimacy and communication in relationships, can conspire to create a situation where self-esteem takes a battering if needs are not met or are outside the grasp of the person. A variety of studies seem to point to the fact that young girls are more sensitive to the effects of stress at the interpersonal level. Girls appear to invest more in friendships and loyalties. Unfortunately many of these allegiances tend to shift and this seems to generate stress both in attempts at maintaining certain relationships and when they finish.
Adolescence is frequently associated with anti-social behavior, yet far more time in the teen years is actually spent investing in peer acceptance. An unfortunate side-effect of this is sometimes participating in certain activities in order to maintain acceptance. Even so, emotional distress, aggressive and delinquent behavior, have all been linked to low self-esteem and perceived low levels of social support. Lack of social support is also linked with poor mental health, peer victimization and increased risk of suicide.
We find certain behaviors easier to identify as abnormal. One such example is aggression in girls. There are always exceptions to the rule but on average most people would accept that aggression in teenage girls is unusual. If seen it suggests something is wrong. The situation is much less clear with teenage boys. A difficult and even aggressive teenage boy may be viewed as standard issue male development by many people. Unfortunately these are also signs of distress. If aggression is coupled with other issues such as poor sleep, mood swings, increased risk taking, social withdrawal, complaints of pointlessness, drinking or substance use, the chances are the person is suffering from clinical depression.
Young people are great worriers. Concerns over school performance, making mistakes, fear of criticism, body size and shape, bullying, the future, relationships, the list goes on and on. Yet this is really quite normal and most young people manage to resolve many of these issues as they mature. The fact that some young people go on to develop anxiety disorders, suggests a process that is likely to have been set in motion years earlier. Children typically experience a number of fears involving shadows, the dark, imaginary creatures and so on. However, excessive expression of fears at or around the age of 7 is frequently a warning sign for the development of anxiety disorders.
Anxious adolescents often lack the knowledge and skills required for effective coping strategies such as problem-solving. Adolescence is a time for development but it is also a time for sometimes excessive amounts of introspection, self-doubt and worry. Adolescents are more prone to anxiety disorders if one or more parents have an anxiety disorder. As parents are so influential in the development of children it isn't easy to distinguish whether anxiety is more an issue of nature or nurture.
The angst of adolescence is normal, if uncomfortable, but we have to guard against an assumption that teen experiences are transient and have little bearing on their future wellbeing. All parents know how difficult a path the teen years can be. Knowing when to step in or step back is more often than not a process of trial and error. Some of the key issues for teens are that you are available, approachable, supportive, and not overly judgmental during this time.