Adolescence is a tumultuous time, in which rapid physical, emotional and mental changes occur, along with profound environmental transitions. Over the past decade, parents, teachers and therapists have become increasingly concerned with the effects of this period of development, and particularly with how adolescent girls are managing this critical time. Research has shown that adolescent girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer from depression, and the causes contributing to the prevalence of this problem are varied. Society pressures, combined with their desire or need for the approval of others, makes these girls overly sensitive to signals from other people that confirm or deny their feelings and behaviors as appropriate. Unfortunately, our society may be guilty of socializing young girls into depression proneness.
Friendship attachment has been proven a strong predictor of healthy mental development in adolescent females, and girls with lower levels of friendship experience higher levels of anxiety and depression, and exhibit less effective coping skills. Another study indicates that girls cite disconnection from important people in their lives, including peers and family members, as a major factor in causing depression.
The 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey, conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reveals some troubling facts about adolescent girls in the United States. According to the data collected from almost 7,000 high school age girls, 37% of them reported having felt sad or hopeless to the point that they ceased their usual activities for two or more weeks during the year preceding the survey, and almost 22% of them had seriously considered attempting suicide. The incidence of depression in adolescent girls is prevalent at a serious level and can lead to a wide range of social, physical and mental problems. Mary Pipher in her bestselling book Reviving Ophelia points out that depression in adolescent girls ranges in degree from ordinary adolescent misery to the extreme of severe clinical depression, but that given the impulsivity of this age group, any degree of adolescent depression should be taken seriously.
Research on the effects of socio-evaluative concerns theorizes that girls experience depression at higher rates than boys, because they are more concerned with what their peers think of them. Although there are benefits to the importance that girls place on interpersonal relationships and the support that they provide, there are also negative consequences when an adolescent girl worries incessantly about concerns such as her appearance and being accepted by her peers. Adolescent girls cite feelings of loneliness and lack of support as contributors to a purposeful withdrawal from social interaction, leading to depression.
As a concerned parent of an adolescent girl, what can you do? First, pay attention to your daughter. Get to know her friends, be supportive of healthy friendships, and acknowledge her dreams as well as her fears. In order to keep their true selves and grow into healthy adults, girls need support and acceptance from both family and friends, meaningful goals, and respect, as well as physical and psychological safety. They need identities based on talents or interests rather than appearance, popularity, or sexuality. They need good habits for coping with stress, skills for self-nurturing, and a sense of purpose and perspective. They need quiet places and quiet times, and they need to feel a part of something larger than their own lives.
Secondly, allow your daughter enough freedom to make some of her own choices, with clear and consistent consequences. Girls need homes that offer both protection and challenges. Inside that home, they need both affection and structure. The best message for teenage girls is “I love you, and I have expectations.” Ask your daughter questions that encourage her to think clearly for herself. Listen for what you can respect and praise in what your daughter says, and whenever possible, congratulate her on her maturity, insight, or good judgment. In other words, “Catch her doing good.”
At Southlake Counseling, we offer individual, family and group therapy services for adolescent girls and their families. If you are concerned about your daughter’s well-being, schedule a confidential assessment and allow us the opportunity to provide the guidance and support that she may need to thrive during this difficult phase of her development.
DebbieDebbie Parrott, MSW, P-LCSW Southlake Counseling