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Do Teen Girls & Boys Handle Stress Differently?

by Scott Thompson

High levels of stress are the norm rather than the exception for American teens. They are dealing with romantic relationships, family relationships, friendships, school, work and financial problems. Some teens also have to deal with violence and drugs in their communities. Everyone manages this stress in their own way, but gender does play a role in how that stress affects them and the coping mechanisms they use.

Stress and Gender

A 2006 study conducted in Baltimore by the Center for Adolescent Health found a distinct difference in the amount and source of stress in teen girls and boys. Girls reported higher levels of stress that stemmed from their dating relationships and issues with their friends. Boys experienced less stress, but it stemmed from their relationships with teachers and other people with authority over them. In addition, the older they get, the more stress they experience. Connecticut Clearinghouse, a mental health and wellness resource center, reports that 43 percent of teens ages 13 to 14 experience stress on a daily basis, but that figure increases to 59 percent for teens ages 15 to 17.

Boys' Coping Strategies

Teen boys try to deal with stress by either distracting themselves from it or ignoring it. A teenage boy might go out with friends, listen to some music or play a video game. This type of strategy is not necessarily unhealthy, but it only provides temporary relief from stress. Ignoring stress -- or the avoidance strategy -- can have long-term mental and physical health consequences.

Girls' Coping Strategies

Teen girls deal with stress by going to their friends or family for emotional support or by doing something to change the situation causing the stress. These strategies are healthier and more effective than the distraction and avoidance strategies preferred by most teen boys, so even though teen girls experience more stress, they are often better at coping with the stress they experience. However, both boys and girls sometimes resort to destructive coping strategies.

Dysfunctional Strategies

Dysfunctional strategies for coping with stress can vary with gender, as well. Boys might turn to alcohol, drugs, fighting or reckless behavior. Although, girls may employ these coping mechanisms, they are also susceptible to eating disorders or engaging in a practice known as "cutting" in which they use a sharp object to make shallow cuts on their arms or other body parts. If you suspect your teen is engaging in any dangerous behavior, seek professional assistance.

Helping Teens Cope

To help your teenager cope with the stresses in her life, encourage her to take care of herself by getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food and exercising. Journaling can be a good way for a teen to process emotions and keep stress under control. Teen girls are more likely to be interested in journaling than boys, but the Center for Adolescent Health suggests that boys can benefit from keeping a journal rather than avoiding their stressful emotions. Check in with your teen frequently to give him a chance to talk about anything that may be causing him stress.

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