High School: Girls and Adolescence

Research shows that there are particular issues during adolescence that girls struggle with more than boys.  In particular, girls who experience puberty early may be vulnerable to physical and emotional development challenges.  Depression, anxiety, excessive concerns about weight and appearance, sexual behavior and peer pressure, are some of the issues they have to deal with on a daily basis. These all put adolescent girls at higher risk for negative and risky behaviors.

Girls are more vulnerable than boys to the health and safety risks of substance use. For example, females can advance more quickly from use to abuse, have greater smoking-related lung damage and are more vulnerable to alcohol and ecstasy-induced brain damage compared to males.

Girls are also more vulnerable to date rape and sexual assault.  About 12 percent of girls in grades 9-12 report that they've been physically forced to have sex when they didn't want to.

Girls tend to use alcohol or drugs to improve mood, increase confidence, reduce tension, cope with problems, lose inhibitions or lose weight. Coping with stress is a leading reason for drinking, smoking and using drugs among girls. Adolescent girls are more likely than boys to drink to fit in with their friends.

Puberty tends to bring higher rates of depression among teen girls.  One study found symptoms of depression in one in four girls, a rate 50 percent higher than in boys.

Though these are alarming statistics, there are many things that you can do as a parent to help your daughter feel good about herself and be able to make healthy choices for herself. Your relationship is key.

Encourage your daughter to develop an identity based on her talents or interests.

Promote good habits for coping with stress, such as setting realistic goals, learning to prioritize, getting enough sleep and engaging in physical activity.

Ask questions that encourage her to think for herself.

Point out what you like about her and give positive reinforcement for good decisions and healthy choices.

Have meaningful discussions about the social pressures of appearance and weight.

Stress to your daughter that being attractive is not the most important measure of their success or value.

Encourage your daughter to be active and spend time with her doing healthy activities.

Activities together can be a way to connect and relieve stress and anxiety.

Time is one of the most valuable things you can give your child. Show your daughter that your time with her is valuable to you. Try to set and maintain special rituals like nights of movie marathons, a girls' night of pedicures or a Saturday morning sporting activity.


Caspi, A., Lynum, D., Moffitt, T. E., & Silva, P. A. (1993). Unraveling girls ' delinquency: Biological, dispositional, and contextual contributions to adolescent misbehavior.  Developmental Psychology, 29(1), 19-30.

Donovan, J. E. (1996). Gender differences in alcohol involvement in children and adolescents: A review of the literature, In Women and Alcohol: Issues for prevention research, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Research Monograph No. 32, NIH Pub. No. 96-3817. Bethesda, MD. 

National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (2003). Formative years:
Pathways to substance abuse among girls and young women ages 8-22. February 5, 2003, Columbia University, New York NY.

Pipher, M. (1994). Reviving Ophelia: Saving the selves of adolescent girls.
New York, NY: Random House.

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, Centers for Disease Control, 2003.

The Commonwealth Fund. (1997). The Commonwealth Fund survey of the health of adolescent girls, New York: The Commonwealth Fund.

Information has been compiled from various educational
and counseling resources