Female teens typically have different needs than male teens. In fact, many experts now recognize that female teens are more vulnerable to mood disorders, including depression and anxiety. Research also indicates that females mature more quickly than boys and therefore can be more sensitive to emotional stimuli. For these reasons, female teens might have different emotional and psychological needs. If parents and caregivers are aware of these needs, they might better support their female teens and facilitate their successful transition to adulthood.
Rates of Depression are Higher in Female Teens
Research studies locally, nationally, and even globally reveal that female are typically more at risk for depression than males. However, it should be noted that prior to adolescence neither gender experiences depression more so than the other. Yet, this changes after about the age of 13, when girls are two to three times more likely to experience depression.
California: Using data from the 2003 California Health Interview Survey, the study found that under 1/3 of California teens ages 12 to 17 reported talking to their medical providers about their feelings or emotional state. Females (37.5%) were more likely to report their emotional symptoms and were more likely screened for emotional distress than male teens (25.1%). Also, only 34% of teens reported that their doctors discussed their feelings and emotions with them of which 36.4% were females and 30.4% were male.
United States: On a national level, approximately 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 struggled with at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health 2015 survey. Of these teens, 19.5% of them were female and 5.8% of them were male. This is a significant gender difference. In another research study which monitored the mental health of nearly 400 American teens, female teens tended to have more depressive symptoms than boys.
Globally: According to the World Health Organization, depression is predicted to be the second leading cause of disability in 2020. Women around the world are twice as likely to struggle with depression than men. However, it should be noted that men are more likely to carry out a suicide attempt than women.
Other Mental Health Concerns in Female Teens
In addition to mood disorders, female teens tend to also struggle (more often than male teens) with eating disorders, self-harm, and early pregnancy. In fact, commonly, there is a co-existing relationship with mood disorders with these other mental health concerns.
Eating Disorders: Female teens are more likely to worry about their body shape and feel pressure to maintain a certain weight. This pressure along with feelings of low-self esteem can contribute to developing an eating disorder. Although there are four general types of eating disorders, a teen can display many forms of disordered eating, including occasional binge eating, restricting their food intake, or the excessive use of laxatives to stay thin.
Self-Harm: When female teens experience intense emotions that feel overwhelming, they may turn to self-harm (cutting, burning, pulling their hair) as a means to cope with the emotional pain. Although it doesn’t make logical sense to most parents and caregivers, self-harm is frequently a coping mechanism when struggling with strong emotions, depression, anxiety, or fear.
Early Pregnancy: Frequently, when a teen becomes sexually active at an early age, there are factors in her life that may be contributing to the risky behavior. Fortunately, teen pregnancy has been dropping considerably. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was approximately 249, 000 children born to female teens ages 15–19 years old. Factors that contribute to early pregnancy in teens include:
- peer pressure
- absent parents
- glamorization of pregnancy
- lack of knowledge
- sexual abuse
- teenage drinking
Ways that Parents Can Support their Female Teen
1. Build your daughter’s self-esteem
Helping your female teen feel good about who she is will be crucial in supporting her mental health. When a female teen has a high level of self-confidence, she is more likely to resist peer pressure, go after what she likes, and experience life as positive. Parents can help a teen build self esteem through:
- praising her often
- modeling body acceptance
- talking honestly about the media
- helping her build skills for independence
- moving away from a focus on appearance
2. Be there for your female teen
Recall that female teens are more sensitive to emotional experiences than their male friends. When female teens are going through a difficult experience, let them know you’re there for them. For instance, if your teen makes a mistake. Rather than getting angry at them, talk about what happened. If necessary, you may still need to provide consequences, but talking about it first can help a teen feel supported and accepted by you regardless of their behavior and choices. Remember that teens are still learning to find their way. They are going to make mistakes. So, be there for them first and foremost.
3. Talk to your teen about sex, drugs, and alcohol
Research shows that when parents have positive relationships with their teens and those parents let their teens know that what they don’t approve of, teens will most likely listen. Talk to your teen about the dangers of unprotected sexual activity, the risks of using drugs, and the concerns that come along with drinking alcohol. Clearly let your teen know that you don’t approve, and give them tools to use when they are faced with peer pressure. Teens often struggle with wanting to meet their parents expectations while also feeling the pressure from friends and classmates.
4. Teach your female teen about money management
One of the greatest ways you can empower your teen is to teach them about money. You might give them an allowance or encouragement to get a part-time job. Talking to your daughter about money and teaching them financial skills helps to set them up for success later in life. For many women, finances is a major source of anxiety and stress. However, parents and caregivers can help put their teen on the right track with skills they learn early on.
5. Encourage self-discovery
Adolescence is a time for discovering a sense of identity that is different and separate from the rest of the family. Some parents have a hard time with this, thinking that their daughter is going to stray from the nest. However, it would be wise of parents to encourage their teen to discover what they like and don’t like, experiment with hobbies, and join school clubs to uncover a passion they didn’t know they had. Parents might also praise the natural abilities of their daughter to help highlight who she is and help her feel good about it. The more that a female teen learns her unique place in the world, the more likely she is to succeed.
These are suggestions for supporting the emotional and psychological well being of a female teen. As discussed above, female teens can be more vulnerable to certain psychological illnesses. But with the right support from parents and caregivers, young females can grow up to be successful women.