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Health & Parenting

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Teen Girls Have Tougher Time Than Boys

Girls Encounter More Stressors and Respond More Strongly to Them, Becoming More Depressed
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 7, 2007 -- Ever wonder why teenage girls can seem more stressed out and depressed than teenage boys? A new study sheds some light.

Teenage girls encounter more "stressors" in life, especially in their interpersonal relationships, than boys -- and they react more strongly to those pressures, accounting in part for their higher levels of depression, the study suggests.

"Girls are getting a double hit," says Benjamin L. Hankin, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, one of the study's researchers.

"They are experiencing more interpersonal stress, and when they experience more of the stress, they exhibit more depressive symptoms than boys do," he says.

For years, Hankin says, experts have known that by midpuberty -- age 13, or so -- more girls than boys experience depression.

But they have not been able to pinpoint why.

Other research has found that teenage girls report more stressors in life than do teenage boys, but researchers have disagreed on whether the girls react more strongly to stressors and become more depressed, Hankin says.

The Study

Hankins' study looked at 538 eighth and 10th-grade students, aged 13 to 18 (average age: 14.9), from 18 Chicago-area schools.

The students were asked to record their "worst event" of the day in their diaries every day for a week, at three different time points -- the study launch, and six and 12 months later.

The diary method is considered superior to research that asks students to recall stressors from the past, Hankin says; it tends to be more accurate.

Besides describing this "worst event," students said what made it so bad, and what they did in response.

"Worst events" included getting kicked out of school, failing a quiz, arguing with a parent, getting mad at a girlfriend or boyfriend, and other problems.

The researchers later evaluated how stressful the events were and classified them as interpersonal (involving interaction between the teen and another person -- such as family, peer, or romantic partner) or achievement (involving academics or athletic performance).

Hankin's team also looked at the boys' and girls' depressive symptoms and their self-reported use of alcohol.

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