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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

Interpersonal Stressors vs. Achievement Stressors

The girls reported more interpersonal stressors, while the boys had more achievement stressors.

"In an average week, the girls experienced twice as many interpersonal stressors as the boys did," Hankin says.

While the boys averaged 0.50 interpersonal stressors a week, the girls averaged one -- about twice as many.

However, the boys experienced 0.24 achievement stressors each week, while the girls reported just 0.16.

The girls were more adversely affected, too, Hankin found. For the same stressor, the girls reacted with more depression than the boys, Hankin says.

Looking at interpersonal stressors alone and the teens' reactions to them "explains 30% of why the girls are more depressed than the boys," Hankin says.

Genders respond in different ways to stress, the study also found.

"If there is a romantic fight between a boy and a girl, on average, a girl will respond with more depression," Hankin says. "A boy will go distract himself," Hankin says, perhaps playing basketball or doing some other activity.

No gender differences were found in the use of alcohol in response to stress.

Another Expert Weighs In

The study sheds light on some of the pathways that lead girls to become more depressed, says Karen D. Rudolph, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has researched the same topic.

It shows that "girls are experiencing more stress in their lives and react more strongly," she says.

Take-Home Messages

For parents of girls and boys entering puberty, Hankin has this advice: "Pay attention to what your child is experiencing at home and with relationships. Be available and supportive emotionally for your child."

Be aware, Rudolph adds, that "when things go wrong, girls may be interpreting it in a catastrophic way."

For example, an argument with a friend may be viewed as the end of a friendship. But parents can step in and suggest how to heal the relationship, she says.

Hankin's study is published in the January-February issue of Child Development.

He did the work while at the University of Illinois at Chicago with his University of Illinois co-researchers, Robin Mermelstein, PhD, and Linda Roesch, MA.

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