Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

The Influence of Psychological Gender and Coping on Adolescents' Symptom Reports

Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

The Influence of Psychological Gender and Coping on Adolescents' Symptom Reports

Article excerpt


Health complaints are rather widespread even in children and adolescents. This paper explores the role of psychological gender (feminine and masculine) and coping strategies for the explanation of individual differences in symptom reports. A study with 1.021 children and adolescents aged 9 to 17 showed a significant relation of the coping variables catastrophizing and anger-related emotion regulation to an increase in symptom reports almost throughout the sexes and age groups. There were additional influences of a male gender orientation to decreased symptom reports and of non-pain-related problem solving to increased symptom reports. These effects were, however, restricted to the male subgroup. The meaning of the results for the current well-being and the future coping of children and adolescents with their health complaints is elaborated and discussed.

Keywords: somatic symptoms, psychological symptoms, coping, gender role orientation, sex differences, children, adolescents

1. Introduction

Although childhood and adolescence are periods of low morbidity rates, health complaints are nevertheless widespread during these ages. One of the most extensive international studies focusing on this subject is the Health Behaviour in School-Age Children Study (HBSC-Study; Currie et al., 2012). Over 200.000 children and adolescents, aged 11 to 15, from 43 countries participated in the study between 2009 and 2010. Apart from being asked about their subjective health status, participants were asked to rate the frequency of their encountered bodily symptoms (e. g. headaches, stomach pains or back aches) over the past six months. A fair or poor health status was reported by 11% of the 11-year old participants. This proportion increased to 18% in 15-year old adolescents. The increase across age was higher for girls in comparison to boys. Additionally, multiple symptoms were reported by 28% of the 11-year old participants, with an increase across age up to 35% in 15 year-old adolescents. Again, there were sex differences with higher proportions in girls in comparison to boys. The results were rather consistent throughout the participating countries. High prevalence rates for somatic complaints (e.g., headache, backache, abdominal pain) as well as psychological complaints (e.g., nervousness, exhaustion) were also reported in other studies (e.g., Bingefors & Isacson, 2004; Rhee, Miles, Halpern, & Holditch-Davis, 2005). Most of these complaints are not related to defined diagnoses or diseases, but to diffuse symptoms. They are nevertheless important, because they influence the present well-being of children and adolescents and also the future health perception and health care utilization in subsequent life periods. Thus, the search for factors underlying health reports in early periods of life may be an important target for research.

According to Macintyre (1993) a possible factor influencing symptom reports may be a female gender role orientation. Children and adolescents with a female gender role orientation may be more willing to report symptoms of distress and illness. Differences in the way that symptoms are perceived, evaluated and acted upon may be a result of childhood socialization in accordance with sex role expectations (Macintyre, 1993; Maccoby, 1998). Because the degree of a female or male self-conception varies within both sexes, individual differences regarding the degree of a female or male gender role orientation may influence the identification and willingness to report somatic and psychological symptoms (within each of the sexes).

A second influential factor for symptom reports is related to coping with stress-evoking events. According to Currie et al. (2012) frequent or sustained stress may lead to physiological stress, which in turn can affect the development of complaints. As a consequence, the availability of effective coping skills can be assumed to be an influential variable in the context of health complaints. …

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