Dear Dr. Levister,
To my disbelief my 13-year-old daughter says she is stressed out. She’s too young to know what stress is! Before I discuss this with her, please help me consider some reasons why life might seem overwhelming to a young teenage girl. R.G.
Take your daughter’s stresses seriously. There are a host of reasons why she might feel ‘stressed out’ to include physical and emotional changes, onset of the menstrual cycle and social pressure.
At a time when girls are maturing faster than ever and, for reasons doctors don’t completely understand, teen girls are hitting puberty younger than any generation in history.
About 15% of American girls now begin puberty by age 7, according to a study of 1,239 girls published last year in Pediatrics. One in 10 white girls begin developing breasts by that age — twice the rate seen in a 1997 study. Among black girls, 23% hit puberty by age 7.
“Over the last 30 years, we’ve shortened the childhood of girls by about a year and a half,” says Sandra Steingraber, author of a 2007 report on early puberty for the Breast Cancer Fund, an advocacy group. “That’s not good.”
The growth spurt of puberty can cause a girl considerable anxiety, especially if she is behind or ahead of her peers. Bullying among teens male and female is also a very serious stressor.
Encourage your daughter to talk about her stress. At first, she may be reluctant to talk. Be patient, quick to listen, slow to speak.
Do not burden your daughter with too many extracurricular activities. Make sure she gets enough rest. Help her find healthy outlets for stress. Encourage her to limit time on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Unlimited exposure puts teenage girls in a confusing situation where a girl’s image is not always what it seems, as nearly 74 percent of girls agree that most girls use social networking sites to make themselves “cooler than they really are.” Surveys show that girls downplay several positive characteristics of themselves online, most prominently their intelligence, kindness and efforts to be a positive influence.
Suggest that your teen curb cell phone use instead read a book or visit a grandparent ‘just for fun’.
Be a good role model. Remember, your teenager is watching your example and learning from it – for better or for worse.