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Stress in Teen Girls: Who's at Risk?

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What I also learned from my research is that all stressed-out girls, no matter their specific issues, are prone to becoming estranged from their inner lives. What I mean is that even teens who are driven to achieve are so busy living up to others' expectations that they either don't develop or eventually relinquish their own goals. They are so focused on achieving external emblems of success that they don't get the chance to figure out what really excites them and gives them pleasure. They barely know who they are or who they want to become. More troubling, when accomplishments lose meaning, teens begin to feel bored and empty, states that I believe are related to the prevalence of serious problems such as depression, self-cutting, and eating disorders among young women today.

In contrast, I found that girls who have been given the chance to get to know themselves and to pursue their true interests are two steps ahead of the game. Teens who believe their parents and teachers have hopes for them that are realistic--and in line with their actual talents and passions--feel most equipped to succeed.

Equally important, I discovered that while affluence and having exceptionally accomplished parents can increase teens' pressures and obligations, other factors protect them. What really matters is how resilient girls are to stress; this is determined by their self confidence, social acceptance, perceptions of being valued, and coping skills.

This is why intellect and fine schooling do not guarantee success. In fact, the research is clear: Most successful people are not necessarily brilliant, but they are self-directed and passionate about what they do. A twenty-year longitudinal study of learning disabled individuals by the Frostig Center in Pasadena, California, corroborates the importance of resiliency. Researchers identified six attributes associated with long-term life success: self-awareness, proactivity, perseverance, goal-setting, effective support systems, and emotional coping strategies.

What this means is that all the ambition in the world is not going to make up for a poor work ethic, lack of integrity, disorganization, or trouble getting along with others. Graduating from an elite college is not going to matter in the long run if a teen feels stressed out, insecure, discouraged, defective, or resentful. Unless girls have their emotional and social houses in order, they can't focus their energy and fully use their talents. Being smart is never enough.

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From Stressed-Out Girls: Helping Them Thrive in the Age of Pressure by Roni Cohen-Sandler, Ph.D. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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