Are You Giving Your Daughter Anxiety Issues?

Health & Wellness on 04.22.11

Photo: Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

Studies have shown that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men are, says Taylor Clark in a Slate piece called "Nervous Nellies" -- but part of that could be linked to the differences in how boys and girls are raised.

"While women are indeed more fretful than men on average right now," says Clark, "this difference is mostly the result of a cultural setup -- one in which major social and parenting biases lead to girls becoming needlessly nervous adults."

It's not just parental behavior -- Clark points out that some small studies have shown slight differences in the way male and female rat brains react to stress -- but the way moms and dads react to their children's emotions can play a part. Clark calls this the "skinned knee effect".


"Parents coddle girls who cry after a painful scrape but tell boys to suck it up, and this formative link between emotional outbursts and kisses from mom predisposes girls to react to unpleasant situations with "negative" feelings like anxiety later in life. On top of this, cultural biases about boys being more capable than girls also lead parents to push sons to show courage and confront their fears, while daughters are far more likely to be sheltered from life's challenges. If little Olivia shows fear, she gets a hug; if little Oliver shows fear, he gets urged to overcome it."


Of course, as children grow up there are other cultural factors at play -- women are more likely than men to seek counseling for anxiety issues, for one; they're also apt to see themselves as "more emotional" than men, even when they're reporting the same feelings.

So what's the end result? Says Clark, "We all get stressed-out and nervous sometimes. Women are simply more honest about their anxiety, because they've been taught to deal with it through unencumbered fretting."

How are you teaching your children to deal with stress?


Tags: Kids Health