The teenage years can be exciting times with new challenges and experiences. For many girls, however, these years can bring agonising self-doubts. Parents often watch the energy, optimism and self-confidence of a girl’s childhood dissolve when she becomes a teenager. Hormonal and physical changes combined with mixed sociocultural messages mean that some of the good feelings young girls feel about themselves vanish.
As a girl matures and gains fat around her hips and thighs she might despair about ever conforming to the dominant female ideal of being tall and slim. She might end up on a regime of constant dieting and becoming obsessed with her physical appearance. Eating disorders are common amongst teenage girls. Whereas teenage boys gain muscle and get messages about strength and athletic achievements girls might stop taking pride in their more tangible strengths and accomplishments. Research studies have found that many girls begin to adopt a ‘ruminative response’ to the stresses of puberty and increased attention from boys. Some girls are ‘silenced’ by the changes and challenges of the teenage years. They might become withdrawn and lose their earlier childhood exuberance for life. Some will experience depression because they find the adjustments difficult to make and the new demands hard to cope with.
Because teenagers often ‘act out’ and use strategies to hide their true feelings, depression can be hard to spot. Some teenage girls might cover their feelings with rebelliousness, anger, drinking or using drugs. They might break rules and even run away. While some of this behaviour can be considered to be part of the normal turmoil of the teenage years, often it masks the depression these girls are experiencing. Because the teenage years are full of energy and experimentation, sometimes the girl’s depressed mood will only show itself intermittently.
The following are ‘red flags’ you should know about when considering teen depression:
Encouraging teenage girls to achieve and be assertive is important. Teenage girls should be helped to learn active coping and problem-solving skills as well as assisted in developing intellectual accomplishments. Research has shown that girls who feel confident and can pursue their own goals are more successful in their adult working and personal lives.
Coping with the pressures of the teenage years can be challenging for any girl and the more support she receives from key people in her life and the more she is encouraged to gain confidence and pursue her goals, the more successful she will be in transitioning from her teenage years into the adult world.
You can read more about strategies for overcoming depression in Out of the Blues.