Gender Differences in Psychosocial Risk Factors among Slovenian Adolescents

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This study investigated psychosocial risk factors in adolescents and assessed gender differences in the frequency of their occurrence. A specially designed questionnaire, which included validated scales for the evaluation of depression (Zung Self-rating Depression Scale) and self-esteem (Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale), was administered to a representative sample of Slovenian adolescents. The final sample consisted of 4,590 high school students of both sexes aged 14 to 19 years. Data analysis revealed several significant gender differences. Girls more often than boys reported family conflict, personal problems, physical inactivity, attempts to control body weight, use of psychoactive drugs, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. Their level of depression was higher and self-esteem lower when compared with their male counterparts. Boys more often than girls indicated that they watched a great deal of television, were the victims of peer violence, and drank alcohol.

Adolescence, more than any other developmental period, entails experimentation, exploration, and risk taking. The majority of adolescents engage, at one time or another, in one or more problematic behaviors (Conger & Galambos, 1997). Thus, behavioral experimentation is to a certain extent normative for adolescents. However, extended participation in risky behaviors may be predictive of more serious psychosocial problems (Jessor, 1992). Consequently, a sound understanding of the factors that increase the psychological vulnerability of adolescents is important for endeavors aimed at reducing the incidence of mental disorders in this age group.

Gender differences concerning various psychosocial risk factors have been reported for adolescents (frequently investigated risk factors include the following: dysfunctional family interactions; alcohol and substance abuse; unprotected sexual activity; unhealthy lifestyle, such as dysfunctional eating habits and lack of exercise; and truancy). The literature indicates that girls generally engage in problem behaviors less often than do boys and are likely to terminate such behaviors sooner (Ensminger, 1990; Petersen et al., 1993). However, studies indicate that girls experience depression with greater frequency, have lower self-esteem, and engage in more suicidal ideation and suicide attempts (Avison & McAlpine, 1992; Chartier & Lassen, 1994; DeWilde et al., 1993; Kienhorst et al., 1990; Overholser et al., 1995; Pope et al., 1994; Zhang & Jin, 1996). Eggert et al. (1994) noted that suicidal girls experience a greater frequency of depression and stressful events, while boys display more problems with anger and greater involvement in high-risk behaviors. Avison and McAlpine (1992) have linked the most frequent symptoms of depression among girls to their lower self-esteem and also--together with other factors--to differences between girls and boys in their relations with parents. Werner-Wilson (1998) has drawn attention to the greater significance of the family for girls in regard to their sexual behavior. Further, girls tend to have a more negative body image than do boys, and they are more often dissatisfied with their body weight, which is revealed in their eating behavior (Pingitore, Spring, & Garfield, 1997; Saewyc et al., 1998; Tomori & Rus-Makovec, 2000). In addition, Garcia et al. (1997) have stressed the significance of different exercise beliefs, which are linked to greater physical activity among boys than among girls. In general, the literature concurs with the findings of Ostrov, Offer, and Howard (1989), namely that adolescent girls are more prone to inwardly directed symptomatology, and adolescent boys are more prone to act out.

The aim of the present study was to establish the extent of diverse risk factors in a large sample of high school students, and to investigate possible gender differences. Further, it sought to contribute to greater intercultural knowledge. …