Failed relationships harm teenage girls

Teenage girls whose relationships do not turn out as they hoped could be at risk of experiencing mental health problems, a new study has suggested.

Researchers at the University of New Mexico used data from more than 5,300 high school students. Respondents were asked to keep cards describing the events they would like to see occurring in an ideal relationship, from hand-holding to sex.

A year later, they repeated the same exercise, but indicated which events had actually taken place within their own relationship and in what order.

It was found that girls' risk of depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts increased the more their real-life relationships diverged from their ideal. 

However, there was no evidence that this romantic relationship inauthenticity affected mental health in boys.

Writing in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, study author Brian Soller said parents and teachers may need to do more to ensure girls do not place such importance on relationships.

"Helping girls build their identities around things other than romantic relationships may mitigate the effects of relationship inauthenticity on their mental health," he added.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Nihara Krause comments:

"Facilitating emotional resilience in teenagers provides them with tools to defend themselves against a variety risk factors which may impact negatively on their mental health, including, as this study points out, dealing with incongruence between an ideal and reality. Focus on the importance of developing a positive self-concept as well as self acceptance, promotes self-efficacy and this will not only provide alternatives to external factors such as a relationship disappointment, but will work to protect teenagers at vulnerable times.

"Teenagers are more prone to difficulties in identity formation due to maturing neurocognitive development associated with brain areas involving the medial pre frontal cortex, associated with self-processing. This further supports the importance of providing education on models of cognitive processing facilitating resilience."

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