Homework and exams are seldom the most intimidating part of being a high school student. Instead, cliques, bullying, and the need to belong are much more frightening.
“We all feel the need to fit in socially, but teenagers feel this need more strongly than most. What we don’t understand is why some teenagers feel it more strongly than others,” discussed Haley Skymba, a clinical psychology doctoral student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Joined by Karen Rudolph, a researcher from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, Skymba recently conducted a novel study that is among the first to show how past experiences with friendlessness, bullying, and social exclusion explicitly impact how teenage girls perceive their belonging and sense of self-worth.
This research is a monumental step toward the design of intervention programs aimed at improving teenagers’ mental well-being.
Adolescence is a time of drastic changes– both physical and emotional. And the brain is partly to blame for this emotional turbulence.
During adolescence, the amygdala– which is responsible for influencing fight-or-flight responses– becomes much more active. This leads teenagers to feel intensified effects of their emotional experiences.
Simultaneously, teenagers also undergo a relational hierarchy swap. Rather than prioritizing familial relationships, teens begin to place more value on acceptance among friends and classmates.
According to the researchers, teenage girls specifically represent a demographic that seeks social belonging with more urgency than any other age group.
“For some girls, the need to belong becomes a driving force in their relationships, increasing their susceptibility to mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, and, potentially, their vulnerability to peer pressure,” Rudolph explained.
Sign up for Chip Chick’s newsletter and get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.