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«A Resource Guide for Parents and Teens Developed and Compiled by the Youth Council of the DuPage Workforce Board A Letter to Parents: Your teen’s ...»

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Starting in the preteen years, there is a shift in focus; for girls, their appearance and their changing bodies too often become an all-consuming barometer of worth. For an overwhelming majority of girls, self-esteem becomes too closely tied to how they look and their physical attributes; girls feel they can't measure up to unrealistic society standards.

Teenage girls react differently than boys to "stressors" in life, especially stress in their personal relationships—a tendency that accounts in part for the higher levels of depression in girls.

The media, the sexualization of girls and mental health problems The media, including television, movies, videos, song lyrics, magazines, the internet, video games and advertisements, all too often portray girls and women in a sexual manner—revealing clothing, body posture and facial expressions. These images become the models of femininity that girls—from a very early age—learn to emulate. Girls are constantly barraged by this message: Women in our society are valued above all else based on their physical attractiveness.

The sexualization of girls in all forms of media is a “broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls' self-image and healthy development,” according to a 2007 report by the American Psychological Association Task Force. Sexualization is defined as occurring when a person's value comes only from her or his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another's sexual use.

The American Psychological Association Task Force Report states that sexualization is harmful to girls in

many ways:

Emotional health: Sexualization undermines a girl's confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to anxiety, shame, and difficulty in developing a healthy sexual self-image.

Mental and physical health: The sexualization of girls in the media has been linked to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and major depression or depressed mood, the most common mental health problems in girls and women.

The good news: Government, media, youth empowerment programs, and other advocacy programs such as Girl Scouts, Girls Inc., Boys and Girls Club of America, and the Women's Media Center are teaming up to change the way women are depicted in the media.

How can parents help their daughters develop healthy self-esteem?

 Although the media, peers, and pop culture have a big influence on children, parents are still more important than they think when it comes to having an impact on a daughter's developing

self-esteem. Here are some ways that parents can help:

 Be a positive role model. Don't talk negatively about your own body. Try not to be overly focused on your appearance.

 Listen to your daughter and encourage her to speak her mind.

 Don't praise girls solely for their appearance. Praise should be focused on effort and accomplishments.

 Watch how you talk about other people: Are you judgmental of people's appearances? Make sure you're sending a message to your children that it's what's inside—especially how we treat others—that defines a person and makes us who we are.

 Get dads involved. Girls need to hear feedback from their fathers on their accomplishments.

Girls with dads who are active presences in their lives attend college more often and are more ambitious, more successful in school, more likely to attain careers of their own, less dependent, more self-protective, and less likely to date an abusive man.

 Watch your own stereotypes; let daughters help fix the kitchen sink and let sons help make dinner.

 Watch television, movies, and other media with your daughters and sons. Discuss how girls are portrayed  Let girls fail—which requires letting them try. Helping them all the time or protecting them from experiencing failure, especially if done by dad, can translate into a girl feeling incapable or incompetent. (This goes for boys, too.)  Don't limit girls' choices. Encourage them to explore math or chemistry, for instance; buy them games traditionally meant for boys.

 Get girls involved with sports or other physical activities. Regular physical exercise, when it's something she enjoys, can enhance girls' mental health, reduce symptoms of stress and depression, and help girls feel strong and competent.

 Help girls avoid becoming obsessed with how they look. Counteract advertisers who take advantage of preteen and teenage girls by making them feel they need certain products to feel "cool."

To highlight the effect that ads can have on people, you may want to discuss the following questions (adapted from Media Smarts) with your children, girls and boys:

1. Do you ever feel bad about yourself for not owning something?

2. Have you ever felt that people might like you more if you owned a certain item?

3. Has an ad make you feel that you would like yourself more, or that others would like you more, if you owned the product the ad is selling?

4. Do you worry about your looks? Have you ever felt that people would like you more if your face, body, skin or hair looked different?

5. Has an ad ever made you feel that you would like yourself more, or others would like you more, if you changed your appearance with the product the ad was selling?

It is within the family that a girl first develops a sense of who she is and who she wants to become.

Parents armed with knowledge can create a psychological climate that will enable each girl to achieve her full potential. Parents can help their daughters avoid developing, or overcome, negative feelings about themselves and grow into strong, self-confident women.

How is your Teen Managing Stress?

Teens across the USA are feeling high levels of stress that they say negatively affect every aspect of their lives, a new national survey suggests. More than a quarter (27%) say they experience "extreme stress" during the school year, vs.

13% in the summer. And 34% expect stress to increase in the coming year.

Stressors range from school to friends, work and family. And teens aren't always using healthy methods to cope, finds the latest Stress in America survey from the Washington, D.C.-based American Psychological Association.

Findings on more than 1,000 teens and almost 2,000 adults suggest that unhealthy behaviors associated with stress may start early and continue through adulthood. With 21% of adults reporting "extreme" stress levels, the survey says that with teens "mirroring adults' high-stress lives" they are "potentially setting themselves up for a future of chronic stress and chronic illness." The report warns that teens are at risk of a variety of physical and emotional ills and potentially shorter lifespans than their elders if they don't act to "reverse their current trajectory of chronic illness, poor health and shorter lifespans."

"Our study this year gives us a window in looking at how early these patterns might begin," says clinical psychologist Norman Anderson, the association's CEO. "The patterns of stress we see in adults seem to be occurring as early as the adolescent years — stress-related behaviors such as lack of sleep, lack of exercise, poor eating habits in response to stress." Teens' average stress level was 5.8 out of 10 during the school year and 4.6 in the past month — the survey was taken in August. Adults reported average levels of 5.1 in the past month. As a result of stress, 40% of teens report feeling irritable or angry; 36% nervous or anxious. A third say stress makes them feel overwhelmed, depressed or sad. Teen girls are more stressed than boys, just as women nationally are more stressed than men.

The report says stress appears to be affecting teens' performance in all aspects of life:

• 59% report that managing their time to balance all activities is a somewhat or very significant stressor;

• 40% say they neglected responsibilities at home because of stress; 21% say they neglected work or school because of stress;

• 32% say they experience headaches because of stress; 26% report changes in sleeping habits;

• 26% report snapping at or being short with classmates or teammates when under stress.

Hannah Sturgill, 18, of Portsmouth, Ohio, was among those surveyed last summer when she was 17 and heading into her senior year in high school. "The last two years in high school have been the most stressful for me and my friends," she says. "We have to do everything and be perfect for colleges and we have a big workload. Most of the time we talk about how stressed we are." Sturgill says she skips meals because of stress. Unlike many teens surveyed, she goes to the gym to work out every day. Only about 37% of teens surveyed exercise or walk to manage stress; 28% play sports.

Many more choose what experts say are less healthy activities, including playing video games (46%) and spending time online (43%).

This is the first time the group has focused on teen stress. Other research has studied teen depression and other mental health concerns, but officials say this may be the most comprehensive national look at stress in teens to date. Despite anecdotal reports of high stress, researchers say stress itself in adolescents hasn't been studied broadly; global comparisons have focused on adult stress rather than teens. Despite teens' own perceptions, some experts question whether stress is merely a convenient excuse for teen behaviors. "It's hard to know" if all the negative effects teens report are "really based on stress," says clinical psychologist Jonathan Abramowitz, of Chapel Hill, N.C. "It's hard enough for anyone to really explain why they do certain things, like procrastinating. Give a kid any excuse — it may or may not have anything to do with stress."

Michael Bradley, a psychologist in Feasterville, Pa., who specializes in teens, agrees. "I'm not sure it would be the clinical definition of stress. I think they get stressed because somebody puts a demand on them and they don't want to do it," he says. "However, on their behalf, I will fall back on the fact that hard numbers tell us kids are more anxious and depressed than they've ever been."

A literature review of mental health among U.S. adolescents by the non-profit Child Trends released last year, for example, found that one in four high school students have shown mild symptoms of depression. The report noted symptoms include persistent irritability, anger, withdrawn behavior and deviations from normal appetite or sleep patterns. The report also said 29% of high school students in grades 9-12 reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or longer during the past year. In addition, a study about depression published in 2012 in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, found that rates of suicide attempts were significantly higher in adolescents ages 13-17 than in emerging adults (ages 18-23) or adults (24-30).

Kristen Race, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., author of the book Mindful Parenting, says teens are generally honest about responding to confidential surveys. "They're more honest in that situation than telling their parents how stressed they are," she says. "When teens report their own level of stress, it is typically much higher than parents would report of their teen's level of stress." Anderson says the survey did find enough subtlety to satisfy skeptics. "While one might argue it's very easy to say everything is affected by stress, what's interesting is they're not doing that," he says. "They're differentiating between the things they believe are negatively impacted by stress vs. others. Only 10% believe lower grades are due to stress. They seem to be very nuanced in their attributions of what stress does."

Race says the fact that stress levels dip in the summer suggests how important summer is to kids' mental health. "If you look at teen suicide statistics, stress is one of the things that leads to suicide attempts," she says. "It's incredibly important to have the downtime, and it makes sense to have a dramatic shift in the summer. They sleep more in the summer, and that's going to enormously increase their ability to think positively. " Bradley says teens need help from parents — to a point. "Some parents set out on a mission to get rid of stress in their kids, but the fact is, some degree of stress is very therapeutic and an appropriate amount of stress is what helps us become strong. The hard part is what's appropriate," Bradley says. "We do know the more we try to mitigate all stress in our children's life the less resilient that child becomes and they feel hopeless about their own future."

Source: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life.

What is Resilience and Why Does it Matter?

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.

Factors in Resilience

A combination of factors contributes to resilience. Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person's resilience. Several additional factors are

associated with resilience, including:

 The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.

 A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.

 Skills in communication and problem solving.

 The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

All of these are factors that people can develop in themselves.

Advice for Teens

1. Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.

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