The beginning of adolescence is a period of tremendous changes in the body, emotions, attitude, values, intellect and relationships. Amidst these changes, the teenager’s concept of self, her relationship with parents and family and peers, academic pressure from parents and teachers and the media can influence her mental wellbeing. Here are a few psychosocial factors that play a role and impact her mental health.
- Fragile self-esteem:An adolescent girl’s self-esteem is often affected by appearance or by how her peers or friends think she looks. Her self esteem may rise or dip depending on several factors: her physical growth, hormonal changes, peer group interactions as well as interactions with parents and other important authority figures. Low self-esteem due to concerns related to body weight and appearance when not addressed, can lead to emotional distress.
- Concerns around academic performance and career: Academic performance also contributes to the formation of a teenager’s sense of identity. Too much academic pressure or high expectations from either self, parents or teachers can impact her mental wellbeing. If the girl is academically inclined, the pressure and expectations might overwhelm her, leading to anxiety. If she is not academically inclined, then she could feel insecure and uncertain about herself and her career.
- Ambiguity around gender and sexual identity: Sexual identity adds to the concept of self. If there is confusion in their sexual identity this could add another layer to their dipping self-esteem. As in the case of a girl who approached a counsellor with suicidal feelings. She gradually revealed that she had confusion about her gender and sexuality and figured it out by reading on the internet. She mustered the courage to tell her parents. Her father did not accept it and considered it as something abnormal. Therefore, it’s important for the adolescent to feel accepted and be comfortable in being herself.
- Need for independence, space and evolving self-identity: While exercising their independence, teenagers often want and need space to understand themselves better. When parents try to enforce their values, thoughts and opinions, the teenagers may distance themselves and push back. During such times, it’s important for parents to respect their space.
- Changing interpersonal relationships: Adolescent girls value their interpersonal relationships, especially those with their peers. It plays an important role in their sense of worth. This is seen in the concept of queen bee. This popularity game among adolescent girls is so subtle that it goes unnoticed by parents. For instance, a girl walks into the room and there will be other girls talking about her. Her popularity is based on whether she is getting invited to a party, sharing of secrets etc. The perception of queen bee is that if a girl is part of her group she will be noticed and be popular. The reality is that the queen bee has her own insecurities and therefore needs other girls to deal with her own insecurities.
- Rigidity around cultural norms and expectations: Sometimes cultural factors could add on to the stress and anxiety the adolescent girl might be going through due to various changes. Usually, when a girl enters puberty, due to cultural practices she may be over protected and there may be restrictions imposed on her movement, clothing and mannerisms. Such cultural factors can also increase the gap between girls and boys. In such a scenario, adolescent girls could feel even more challenged to talk about the changes to parents, though there is a need for them to share their emotions.
This article is written based on the inputs from Maullika Sharma, Bangalore-based counselor at the Reach Clinic.