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August 2003
ADOLESCENT ANGST
By Joyce Parker, Ph.D.

(Summarized from an article in Psychotherapy Networker, January-February 2003)

Should we believe teens when they try to tell us we are irrelevant? Some new studies point out that parents need to be involved in and supportive of their children’s lives. Researchers have found that middle class adolescents have high levels of depression and anxiety. In studies by a Columbia University psychologist, Suniya Luthar, tenth graders in an affluent suburb had higher levels of depression, anxiety and substance use than inner city sophomores. In a later study, the same researcher found that 14 percent of affluent seventh grade girls have depression and stress scores above the clinical cutoff level. This is twice the national norm. One in five girls has clinically significant anxiety scores, which is also above the national norm. Boys in this study were three times as likely to use alcohol or drugs than the average boy the same age. Another study conducted by Barbara Henker, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, indicates the consequences of high levels of anxiety and depression for adolescents. She found that highly anxious students were seven times as likely to exhibit anger, two to three times as likely to smoke, and almost twice as likely to drink alcohol than less anxious peers. Also, highly anxious students were eleven times as likely to report sadness, had fewer peer interactions and spent less time in entertaining activities. In her study, Luthar determined that emotional and physical isolation from parents in combination with pressure to achieve were most frequently associated with depression, anxiety and substance use in youth. But achievement pressures were not correlated with higher grades. Henker found that anxious adolescents spent more time on achievement oriented activities. But when they did interact with friends and family, they felt significantly better. This research highlights the fact that adolescents need parents more than they are probably willing to admit.


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