Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gender Differences in Teen Stress: Avoidance and Coping

We know that stress is a part of life. We also know this means that teens experience stress too.

The question is how do teens handle stress? Do they know how to handle stress? Do they have the right tools and skills to handle stress in a healthy way?

Research suggests important differences in how boys and girls cope with stress. According to a Baltimore study:

• 25% of boys and 19% avoid or refuse to deal with stress
• 23% of boys and 14% of girls will distract themselves away from their stress
• 17% of boys and 22% of girls seek support
• 35% and 45% of girls actively try to remove or reduce their stress

Based on these results, it appears boys are more likely to refuse to deal with stress and to distract themselves away from it where as girls are more likely to seek support and actively reduce the stress they experience.

Why the difference?

1. Hormones: During stressful situations, females produce more oxytocin than males. Oxytocin is released into the body to counter the production of cortisol. This hormone promotes bonding, nurturing, and relaxing emotions. As such, when females are stressed they’re physiologically inclined to bond with others. This leads them to speak about what is going on and get advice and support from others. Because males produce much less of this hormone they’re less inclined to speak about it and more likely to go off on their own until the stress passes away on its own or they’re able to come up with a solution.

2. Lack of communication and skills: Boys (and men in general) are less likely to talk about what is bothering them. If they don’t want to speak to anyone and they don’t know how to handle what is going on in life, they’re more likely to avoid dealing with it (the same is true of females who don’t speak about their problems and feel in over their head). As a result, they delay developing the skills to deal with stress.

3. Self-esteem: Female self-esteem is built around adequacy of relationships whereas male self-esteem is built based on adequacy of performance. Because males base their worth on how well they’re able to perform, they’re less likely to seek support than females. Females on the other hand are more likely to search for support and strengthen their relationships (this also explains why many females go out of their way to make others happy).

Here are 4 tips to help your teen (male or female) cope with stress:

1. Communication: Communication serves two purposes. One, it helps your teen identify what is stressing them out by speaking to a trusted adult. Two, it shows your teen he is not alone in dealing with stress. Although girls are more likely to speak about their stress, it does not mean boys remain completely mute. During brief communication, you can help him pinpoint stress and share advice. After that, let him come to a conclusion on his own if that is his preference.

2. Coping skills: Model healthy stress coping skills. These include journaling, time management skills, avoid extreme reactions & overgeneralizing, setting priorities, and setting realistic goals. When your teen is exposed to positive habits, he is more likely to adapt them as his own.

3. Saying ‘No.’: Teach your child (by modeling) to say no. Many times teens get themselves into stressful situations because they did not know how to say no to peers, coaches, teachers, and even to parents. By showing them it’s OK to say no and demonstrating how to do it, they’re more likely to respect their own boundaries.

4. Healthy lifestyle: Healthy diet, enough sleep, and regular exercise are important for a healthy body and to reduce stress. An unbalanced diet produces harmful chemicals in the body as does a sedentary lifestyle, and a lack of sleep.

Best Wishes To Your Family!

Ivana Pejakovic, Life Coach in Toronto

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