Perception is Everything

Brad M. Griffin | Jul 16, 2010

Weve long worried about overweight adolescent girls and depression. While our cultures obsession with thin and the reality of peer insults remain, a recent study from Penn State actually points to two other groups who are more at risk for depression. ((This dataset included responses from over 12,000 teens and included the participants’ actual weight; whether they thought they were under, over or about the right weight; and their scores on a questionnaire that identifies depressive symptoms.))

Instead, its girls who think they are overweight but aren’t who have higher risk of depressive symptoms. What they see in the mirror is fat; but the scale doesnt measure up. For realists whose perceptions match realityfor example, overweight girls who know theyre overweightthe presence of depressive symptoms was far less.

The other group experiencing distress about their weight is underweight boys. While the report doesnt list reasons, we can draw from a long-standing concern that no one wants to be the little guy amid cultural images of muscular and athletic bodies. As former FYI writer Matt Westbrook pointed out several years back, this is a concern we dont often take seriously enough.

A good reminder that while reality is important, perception tends to rule kids (and adults) thoughts and feelings.

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.


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