Why there’s a difference between genders, and what families can do.
Written by Sadie Wirthlin
Anxiety has become a common word in today’s vocabulary. The world’s fast-paced environment—coupled with technology and social media—makes it difficult for anyone to step back and take a breath. Research is finding that anxiety has been on the rise over the last decade—especially in teenage girls.
Psychologist Dr. Leonard Sax, MD, PhD, wrote in the New York Times about this phenomenon. In one of his many cases, Dr. Sax found that two siblings, a boy and a girl in their teenage years, had very different anxiety levels. The teenage boy had sliding grades in school, but he seemed happy and content spending his time playing video games. The teenage girl was an active, popular, straight-A student, and picture-perfect on the outside; on the inside, however, she was falling apart. She had been experiencing a great deal of anxiousness and personal abuse, and she hadn’t told anyone about it.
Early adolescence is a sensitive time for both boys and girls, but for some reason, anxiety seems to explode among girls after they begin puberty. According to the Child Mind Institute, prevalence of mood disorders like anxiety and depression among boys and girls is about 3 to 5 percent before puberty, but by mid-adolescence girls are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder as boys. Studies show that about 22 percent of adolescent girls have an anxiety phobia, a concern that has been on the mind of researchers for years as they have tried to find the cause.
Some research states that the anxiety difference between boys and girls is associated with body dissatisfaction and the use of social media. Girls are more likely to pick themselves apart as their bodies develop, and more likely to do something like fish for praise with Instagram “selfies.” Boys, on the other hand, become more satisfied with their bodies around this age and are more likely to post a picture emphasizing something they have done, rather than how they look. Boys may be at a lower risk for the potentially toxic effects of social media because they generally lack investment in what others think, overestimate how interesting their own life is, and spend more of their time doing activities other than perusing through social media. Many girls, on the other hand, spend a large portion of their day scrolling through social media sites, constantly comparing their bodies and current life activities to their friends’.
But blaming everything on social media might be narrow-minded. Girls mature quicker than boys when it comes to emotional recognition, which could make them more vulnerable to depression and anxiety, according to the Child Mind Institute.
Reports suggest about 80 percent kids who suffer from anxiety don’t get the help they need, which is a problem because it can affect everything from academics to the vital development of social skills. It is not uncommon for young adolescents to hide their anxiety, as a side effect of anxiety is social avoidance.
Parents can look for these signs:
- Withdrawl from activities
- Excessive worry
- Excessive self-criticism
- Panic attacks
- Reassurance doesn’t relieve anxiety
- Activities, environments and friends don’t change for long periods of time
Parents should also be aware that there are various forms of anxiety. Some have a general anxiety, but for others, it has to do with separation, social interaction and more.
According to Dr. Sax, parents can help reduce the odds of their children developing anxiety by implementing a few simple habits. First, parents can minimize the amount of time teenagers spend alone in their bedroom. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that promoting home activities that are done in a public rather than a private setting may be an important protection. Regular family interaction gives parents the opportunity to observe what is going on, and they surround the child with a more open environment instead of being stuck alone with comparative and self-degrading thoughts. This also means no screens (TV or computer) in the bedroom, which tend to isolate children from the family.
Second, parents can make dinnertime a priority, with positive and appropriate family conversation. In order to make this effective, it may be important for parents exclude cell phones from the dinner table. This can be a time for young girls to feel real, meaningful interaction and receive praise from the people who matter. Third, parents can set a rule for no ear buds while driving in the car. The art of conversation is important and needs to be taught in an atmosphere where parents and children can both talk and listen to each other.
These techniques may help, but anxiety levels differ among adolescents, and treatment could require more than public activities and family conversations. When needed, the use of medication and professional counseling can be a wonderful and extremely helpful treatment. Family time, however, is a crucial first line of defence.
Sources: nytimes.com, deseretnews.com, childmind.org, adaa.org, American Academy of Pediatrics
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released data showing that the suicide rate for girls between the ages of 10 and 14 tripled from 1999 to 2014. Though many news outlets covered this finding, many failed to mention that the total number of suicides among girls in the age group rose from 50 to 150. In 2014, more than 42,000 Americans committed suicide, so teenage girls make up a small percentage of that number.