This paper was presented at
Psychology: The Indian Contribution
National Conference on
Indian Psychology, Yoga and Consciousness
organised by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research
at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education
Pondicherry, India, 10-13 December 2004

(click to enlarge)

Coping With Stress Among Indian Adolescents Belonging to the High Income Group

Jigisha Gala and Sangeeta Chaudhary
Department of Human Development and Family Studies
Maharaja Sayajirao University,Baroda


The study penetrates and depicts adolescents’ perceptions about the different ways of coping employed by the adolescents to cope with stress in general and under specific situations. These perceptions are compared across gender. The study covers seventeen to eighteen-year-old adolescents belonging to high-income group. In-depth interview schedule consisting four hypothetical situations is used as a tool to amass data. Qualitative analysis of the data reveals that academics is the major stressor for most adolescents. Although adolescents cope with stress in distinct ways, there are general patterns in their coping behaviors. Two major ways to cope with stress. One way is problem solving. This involves trying to deal with the problem. Another way of handling stress is managing emotions. This involves wielding the thoughts and feelings caused by the problem. Adolescents use both methods, and both can be effective, depending on the situation. Gender differences as well as similarities in coping ways of adolescents are noted which also vary from situation to situation. Gender Analysis Framework discloses that differences in gender arise due to varying temperament, preferred activities and societal expectations. Most adolescents seek help from their parents, as the parents are perceived to be understanding and supportive.


Adolescence can be a stressful time not only for adolescents but also for parents and adults who work with the adolescents. Adolescents are dealing with the challenges of growing. They are going through puberty, meeting the changing expectations of others, and coping with feelings they might not have experienced before.

The most common sources of day-to-day stress for adolescents are school-related problems or pressures; problems with peers, family issues or problems with parents; their own thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, for instance feeling depressed or lonely, getting into trouble because of their behavior. These problems are amply routine for most adolescents.

Nevertheless some adolescents may have to deal with things that their peers may not have to face depending upon the environments in which they grow. Adolescents from lower income groups may have to face different problems, for instance stress of participating in household chores or some income generating activities compared to the adolescents from high income groups where the pressures would vary. Adolescents belonging to the high-income groups are more influenced by the social changes caused due to westernization. Therefore not only the stresses but also the subsequent coping could also deviate across different groups.

In the present study stress refers to the demands made on the adjustive resources of the individual. The ability to adjust and adapt to the changes induced by the stress in order to reduce its harmful impact is coping. The study fathoms the different ways by which adolescents cope with stress. Such knowledge may give direction to what adults could do to help adolescents.

Review Of Literature

The period of adolescence amongst human beings is a time when extensive changes occur in the physiological and biological systems and behaviors.

Psychologists in the west have identified this stage as a phase of stress, strain and storm. However in traditional India with the Gurukula system, this has not been the case. At the Gurukula, an integrated curriculum that encompassed and developed intuition and aesthetics of the pupil along with cognitive abilities, all which had an ecological perspective based on universal outlook (Sarkar P.S *). In recent years education systems seek to get a value for money, and therefore have rigorous and inflexible curriculum based on narrow political vision overlooking the all-round human development: physical, mental and spiritual. Consequently the present education system creates much stress as it encourages competition and comparison between individuals while the Gurukula helped pupils gain an understanding of interconnectedness of individuals and existence.

Recent historical events have drastically changed the experience of adolescence, in some ways making it more difficult than ever before. Hamburg, D; Takanishi, R; 1989 account these changes and following are the considerations:

1.The period of adolescence has lengthened - In the United States 150 years ago, the average age of menarche was 16 years, and today it is 12 and half years. The trend for boys is similar but harder to document.

2.The disjunction between biological and social development- they are reproductively mature [10-15 years] but social maturity lags behind.

3.Confusion about adult roles and difficulty in foreseeing the future.

4.Greater access to potentially life threatening activities- Adolescents are overpoweringly exposed not only to sexuality but also to alcohol and drugs, smoking, vehicles, and a variety of temptations to engage in health damaging behaviors that may appear tension relieving, however the effects of which may endanger themselves and others.

In view of this we can discern that survival of the individual is based on how she/he perceives the stressor and cope with it. Hence in this study an attempt is made to gain insight into the ways adolescents cope with stress, along with consistencies and contrasts across the genders in ways of coping with stress and reasons for the same.

The review has been organized under subheads, beginning with grasping the concepts of adolescence, stress and coping and also recognizing the propinquity among the three constructs. Once this is understood, we move towards theoretical constructs related to coping and to few methodological considerations for studies related to coping, also apprehending the influence of gender and societal norms on coping and finally to the conceptual framework of the study.

Adolescence –A Stage

‘Adolescence’ begins when hormones bring about physical changes to prepare the body for sexual reproduction, and ends in culture when one’s status is defined by new role played in society as transition to adulthood begins. (Grotevant, 2000 and Gardiner, Mutter and Kosmitzk, 1998). In many cultures, onset of each stage is marked by some ceremonies and the main purpose is public recognition (Gardiner et. al 1998).

Adolescence In The Western Context

Adolescence is as distinct phase has been recognized in the west, after 1900’s. The factors accounting for this recognition are segregation of young people from adult and children, establishment of school and passage of laws for prevention of child labor due to the industrial revolution. The notion of adolescence was also strengthened by the works of Hall and Freud (Grotevent, 2000). Hall described this stage as a period of storm and stress (Arnett,1999)

In contemporary studies, Western scholars describe adolescence as a transition from childhood includes early, middle and late adolescence phases that concludes into young adulthood (Grotevent, 2000).

Adolescence In The Indian Context

In India ‘adolescence’ in a new term as compared to the west. Youth or Yuva are the common words used for adolescence in India (Singh,1997 as cited in Saraswati, 2002)

The Hindu Model of Ashramadharma divides human life into four different stages i.e. Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vrudha and the Vanaprastha Ashram. Developmental progress through each of these stages necessitates acquisition of critical tasks associated with each of these stages in desired sequence and time frame (Pestonjee, 1997). Bhramacharya is a stage of apprenticeship, which is characterized by industry, and acquisition of competence. However the notion of industry in this context is in contrast with the western notion of identity crises and role confusion given by Erikson, conceding to the different time frame and the perspectives with which these theories were evolved. For example in India the roles were duty based and predefined according to age, gender and class therefore there was no scope for role confusion. Nonetheless in the present scenario, this contrast has been reducing as roles become obscure due to westernization.

Another interesting feature as pointed out by Saraswati (1999) is that the process of transition from childhood to adulthood is gendered and class based in India. For example there is greater continuity between childhood and adulthood in traditional settings while in the contemporary Indian society for upper and middle class the discontinuity is greater. Upper class adolescents enjoy greater freedom due to less supervision of parents and have an easy access to material resources. They spend more time with peers as compared to adolescents belonging to other SES. Also child-adult continuity is more clearly evident in girls as the socialization to become good wives and mothers begins early in life.

Stress -A Concept

Today stress is a commonly used term. Stress in understood in relation to the stressors or with the feelings associated with it.

Stress is both a physical as well as a mental condition, that pushes a person to change, grow, fight or adapt (Lazarus, 1976).

Stress in Indian Context

Stress in the modern sense is not found in the traditional Indian texts, two Sanskrit words i.e. ‘klesha’ (affliction) and ‘dukha’(pain, misery or suffering) approximate stress. (as cited in pestonjee,1997) Bhagwatgita explains that ‘Kama or trishna’ (desires) are at the root of experiencing stress (as cited in pestonjee,1997).As stress arises due to obstacles in fulfillment of desires.

Palsane et. al. (1986c) also notes that in contrast to the western psychology where stress is believed to be produced by environmental events, in Indian psychology goals and expectations of the individuals brings to the potentially stressful situation. Personal goals and expectations indicate a separateness from the whole i.e. is a feeling of‘aham’ ,which perceives the discord with the whole and hence is not in tune with it.

Coping - A Concept

Coping is management of stress or it can be explained as a process to overcome stressors or demands made on an individual. According to (Lazarus 1974),in stress literature word coping has 2 connotations:

  • It denotes the way of dealing with stress
  • The effort to master the conditions of harm, threat or challenge when a routine or automatic response is not readily available(as cited in pestonjee,1997)

Coping in Indian context

The Indian tradition is characterized by a holistic approach to human phenomena. Behavior is interpreted in terms of total body -mind relationship Palsane et. al. (1986c). And since stress is a result of internal desires in the Indian context, then the management of stress will also be through internal control and understanding. The science of Yoga and meditation are Indian techniques that could relieve stress, however the design is to know ‘advaita’ (non duality) i.e. the transpersonal level the ‘Brahma’ or the ultimate reality.

Stress, coping and adolescents

According to Hamburg and Takanishi,(1989) early adolescent period is characterized by experimentation that is developmentally appropriate and socially adaptive for most, but some of these behaviors carry high risks.

In addition to these all youth are faced with a myriad of daily hassles such as preparing for exams, working through minor peer and family arguments, time-management challenges. Moreover the physical, social, hormonal and cognitive changes that accompany adolescence may lead to feeling of stress, anxiety and depression (Beta, 1994)

Although the experience of stress at some point during the adolescent years is common, most youth emerge through stressful periods without long-term negative effects. However stress and depression are serious problems for many teenagers, as the 1986 study of Minnesota high school students reveals. These young people often rely on passive or negative behaviors in their attempts to deal with problems. Therefore some adolescents are at a greater risk for the problems resulting from stress.

Aaron T.E Bata (1994) has identified 3 types of factors that influence adolescent’s vulnerability to negative effects of stress:

  1. The number of stressors that occur simultaneously in the life of a young person
  2. The presence of internal and external assets in adolescents life such as self-esteem, feelings of competence, close friends, good social skills and trusting relationships with parents.
  3. Coping skills- Adolescents who take specific and purposeful actions to change the source of the stress often fare better than those who use avoidance, denial, distraction or escape to try to deal with stress.

Ways of coping are found to be affected by gender and socialization. Verma et al (1995). Ola’h. A (1995) the influence of culture on coping behavior of adolescents across different types of anxiety

The importance of parental support for adolescents to cope effectively explained by as it determines the development of personality. Dra. María Cristina Richaud de Minzi (2000)

In the study conducted by (Mehra. M, 2003) and (Kurian.S,2003) it was found that adolescents experience stress at home, school and peer and that there are gender differences in coping with stress and adolescents from different socia-economic states experience different stressors and cope differently. Also adolescents employ both effective and ineffective ways of coping.

The Minnesota study of 1986 also reveals, that certain coping behaviors doing something relaxing, trying positive and self-reliant problem-solving, or seeking friendship and support from others are appropriate for adolescents who are try to become independent, take responsibility for themselves, and draw on friends and family for support. While others resorted to negative coping strategies such as yelling, fighting and complaining, drinking smoking and using doctor-prescribed drugs, sleeping, riding around in cars and crying more often. (as cited in Mehta A;Webb D; 1996)

However stress can be beneficial as well. In many instances stress encourages an adolescent to improve overall coping abilities and to concentrate on problem solving, mastery of a skills or learning various techniques to prevent similar triggers of stress from reoccurring in future.

Coping Research -Theoretical Constructs And Methodological Considerations

Theories of coping

The identification of coping strategies used by individuals has led to the development of several theories for coping with stressors.

  1. First Lazarus and Folkman(1984) differentiated between problem focused coping and emotion focused coping
  2. Second model proposed by Rothbaum, Weisz and Synder (1982) introduced the concept of primary- control and secondary control .
  3. Cognitive-relational theory defines stress as a particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well-being (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984b, p. 19). This theory has also been expanded recently to a meta-theoretical concept of emotion and coping processes (Lazarus, 1991, 1993a, 1993b; Lazarus & Folkman, 1987).

There are three meta-theoretical assumptions: transaction, process, and context.

Methodological considerations

Research has mostly neglected these meta-theoretical assumptions in favor of unidirectional, cross-sectional, and rather context-free designs. Hypothetical situations have been used in order to study the coping mechanisms of adolescents as these situations create a context and adolescents actively respond to the stressors. Also, on account of its complexity and transactional character leading to interdependencies between the involved variables, the meta-theoretical system approach cannot be investigated and empirically tested as a whole model. Rather, it represents a heuristic framework that may serve to formulate and test hypotheses in selected sub areas of the theoretical system only. Thus, in practical research one has to compromise with the ideal research paradigm.. However, stress has to be analyzed and investigated as an active, unfolding process rather than static states. Therefore the use of hypothetical situations for the study of coping mechanisms offers to be the best alternative.

Classifying and measuring coping processes

Although several attempts have been made to classify coping responses (Haan, 1977; Lazarus & Launier, 1978; Moos, 1976, 1977; Pearlin & Schooler,1978), no accepted method has as yet emerged. For the present study the investigator has organized the dimensions of coping into 3 categories according to their primary focus ,on dealing with the reality of situation; handling the emotion aroused by the situation or using recreation or entertainment in order to refocus on the situation after temporary digression.

Problem focused coping seeks to modify or eliminate the source of stress by logical analysis(“Introspect and analyze my mistake”), seek information or help (“take advice from my teacher”), take problem solving action(“manage my time well”), this also includes negotiating, explaining, understanding, compromising to resolve the issue or developing alternative rewards(“I’ll study for other subjects and score higher in them”).

Emotion focused coping includes responses whose primary function is to manage the emotions aroused by stressors and thereby maintain affective equilibrium. For instance, affective control by suppressing (“I’ll avoid fights”) or maintaining a sense of pride(“never apologize because I am egoistic”), resigned acceptance i.e.deciding nothing can be done(“accept the way God has made me”), cognitive avoidance includes refusing to believe that the problem really exists or think unrealistically about the problem(“ think my answers are not bad at all”), cognitive redefinition which includes accepting the reality of the situation and cognitively restructuring the problem to find something favorable in it(“think of my positive points”), emotional discharge which includes crying and talking out and engaging in impulsive act like shouting and getting angry.

Digressing from the stressor includes engaging in some recreational or entertaining activity i.e. taking a break away from the stressor for sometime. This also includes alternative therapies and relaxation.

These categories are not mutually exclusive. Problem focused coping can help the person deal with the emotions aroused by a situation (studying for an exam may reduce anxiety; taking advice may generate emotional support), while emotional focused coping can provide the necessary sources to solve a problem (crying or shouting may communicate to the parents to stop nagging which was the source of stressor). Further more digression may reduce anxiety due to problem and help one in focussing on the problem (relaxing to reduce anxiety may help one in studying for an exam). The investigator shall use the preliminary classification scheme to categorize coping responses into three types i.e. problem focussed, emotion focussed and digression. In using these categories the investigator has taken some liberties with the description provided by the original authors. These reformulation are justified by the need to develop conceptual domains of coping responses to understand the pattern of coping used by adolescents and also to form connections between coping responses and adaptational outcomes. There is a growing evidence that the use of such strategies such as logical analysis, cognitive redefinition, information seeking, problem solving action, emotional discharge such as crying can be positively related to adaptation while acting out on impulse, cognitive avoidance may not lead to adaptation. (Haan,1977;Valliant,1977;Weisman,1979)


The central research question is “what are the various coping ways that the adolescents perceive they would use to cope when under stress?. There is a focus on differences in these perceptions due to gender”.

This study is descriptive in nature.


Sixteen to eighteen years old adolescents studying in standard Xl and Xll belonging to the high income families, where their family’s income ranges from Rs.35000-50000p.m comprise the sample for the present study.Forty adolescents constitute the sample, out of which twenty are boys and twenty are girls.

Academics emerged as a second major stressor in the previous study [Kurian; S, 2003], therefore school going adolescents belonging to standard Xl and Xll are studied. The income group is held constant so as to prevent this variable from intervening between the perception of the stress and subsequent coping. Sample was drawn by using purposive sampling technique.


Interview schedule using four hypothetical situations in the areas of stress related to academics, hetero- sexual relationship, teacher-student relationship and physical self appearance was designed to yield in-depth information regarding adolescents’ perceptions of stress, major stressors, ways of coping with stress, parents attitude towards their coping ways and differences in these factors due to gender.

The gender analysis framework developed by the Department for International Development (1999) [Guideline for the analysis of Gender and Health.U.K DFID] was adapted and implemented, to  provide information regarding gender differences in adolescents’ perceptions of ways of coping with stress and parents attitude towards their coping ways.

Procedure For Data Collection

Adolescents were contacted and the permission to conduct and interview was sought from them and their parents. As per the appointments the investigator visited the adolescents at their home and conducted an in-depth interview. The language used was predominantly English while Hindi or Gujarati was used when preferred by the adolescents. Average time taken per interview was 2 hours. The responses where tape-recorded and transcribed.

Data Analysis

Data reduction charts were formed for each interview and based on these charts matrices were developed. Information related to the aspect of gender was incorporated into the Gender Analysis Framework for drawing interpretations and inferences.

Results and Interpretations

In general adolescents associate stress with tension or pressure, which is both physical and mental. They regard that some amount of stress is required to improve efficiency while too much can lead to hazards.85% adolescents, studies emerged as a major stressor.

While stating reasons for reporting academics as the major stressor, both boys and girls acknowledge that the stress is more related to personal attributes rather than academics per say. Which shows that the adolescents’ perceive locus of control within the self.

Most adolescents (58%) report coping with stress by indulging in some mind diverting / entertaining activity such as watching TV, reading or involving in some creative hobbies, when they are asked to respond to a stress in general. Listening to music is the most preferred way. Few (5 %) adolescents also mention alternative therapies such as meditation and Reiki.

Most (90%)of the girls prefer to break away from the stressor than to use problem focused on emotion-focused approach. Although 80% of the boys too prefer to break away, more boys (90%) while girls gave (60%) emotion focused and problem focussed responses. Surprisingly only 30 % girls gave emotion-focused responses as compared to boys, who report 50 % emotion focussed responses.

Further, within emotion focussed category, it is found that majority of the boys report forgetting about the problem or they deny anxiety caused due to it ,while girls use emotional discharge positively by talking out or accepting the reality of the situation , therefore indicating the use of more adaptive ways.

Adolescents’ perceptions about coping with stress given a situation

For the situation pertaining to academics similarities are observed between gender within the problem-focussed category i.e. negotiating with parents and managing time. Also responses of both boys and girls reveal understanding of parents concern. As explained by an adolescent “I can understand their concern as these are our crucial years of studying. However I will explain to them that relaxation is also important” or “Instead of doing things they don’t like watching T.V., do what they like i.e., talk to them or read newspaper”.

However, in the emotion focused category adolescents state impulsive behavior. More girls than boys reveal impulsive reactions towards parental restrictions. Yet, interestingly only girls mention unquestioned acceptance of parental expectations. Another gender difference is noted, where more girls report watching T.V. for taking a break from studies.

In heterosexual relationships 78% of adolescents have given problem-focused responses out of which 40% are given by girls. However even though boys report apologizing to the girl for their mistake, they do it with ‘qualifiers’ such as “apologize to her leaving my ego” or “apologize only once, if she does not understand I will forget about her”. While girls reveal that they would apologize and try to understand their mistake, so that they do not repeat it. This expounds that it is very difficult for boys to realize and accept their mistakes and further apologize for it. The egoistic temperament of boys may be a result of socialization. In contrast to boys, girls appear accommodative which suggest that relationships are very important for them.

Surprisingly, out of the 30% emotion focused responses, 22.5% are given by boys. In all girls reveal impulsive emotional discharge while boys try to regulate emotions by maintaining false pride and not accepting the situations, both of which are not adaptive coping ways.

For the situation pertaining to teacher student relation 59% of adolescents’ responses are problem focused while 40% are emotion focused.

Girls report 35% problem focused responses while boys report 25% for coping. Surprisingly, 4% more boys report emotion focused responses in contrast to girls. Only boys express acting on impulse towards the teacher.

72% of adolescents’ responses are problem focused, of which both boys and girls share 50% responses. More boys than girls have given emotion focused responses with stress caused due to physical appearance

Similarities are seen in the kind of responses within the categories i.e. within the problem focused category, both boys and girls report taking some action to improve looks rather than seeking information about the problem. Within the emotion focused category most adolescent state accepting the reality and therefore accepting ones physical appearance. However, more boys reveal this compared to girls. This indicates that the social norm where girls are expected to look good affects the choice of coping here.

In summary, we may account that, across situations adolescents use problem focused approach more than the emotion focused approach. Taking a break away from the stressor is evident only in the domain related to academics. Most girls report problem focused approach of coping for the last two situations which are teacher student relations and physical appearance.

Surprisingly more boys report emotional focused response across the last three domains that is heterosexual relationship, teacher student relations and physical appearance compared to the girls.

In the domain related to academics, girls reveal more emotion focused responses i.e. trying to see something good in the situation. This is more adaptive as one accepts the reality of the situation and restructures it. Also girls report using more of emotional discharge like “ talking out with someone” i.e. expressing feelings more often vis-a-vis boys. Girls act on impulse only with parents while boys use it also with teachers. Girls also reveal more action-oriented coping towards the problem compared to boys.

Cognitive avoidance is used more by girls for the physical appearance domain i.e. “ convince myself that it is more important to be polished, mature & logical rather than being beautiful but pea brained”, while more boys use it in domain teacher student relations e.g.  “I’ll stop thinking and worrying about the teacher”

Awareness of the various alternative coping ways

As detailed in (Appendices) 75% of girls report awareness of the various alternative coping ways while 55% of the boys state the same. Adolescents’ responses reveal that, they are aware about variety of coping ways.

Strikingly only, one girl mentions about going to a psychologist. Also only girls mention the use of alcohol, drugs for coping while the boys mentioned about “ eating to cope”. Only two adolescents have given problem-focused responses when they are asked about coping alternatives in general. And surprisingly both of them are girls.

Gender difference is observed here where girls reveal a number of entertainment and recreation activities. In alternate therapies, boys consider meditation and yoga as best ways, while girls have also added “ aroma therapy” .In activities girls mention gardening, cooking while boys mention more of physical activities like exercising and boxing

Alternative ways of coping with stress given a situation

A variety of problem solving alternatives are reported across situations. Adolescents report various alternative ways of coping with stress. Across situations girls reported more number of alternative coping ways than boys. However, for the physical appearance domain, boys report more alternatives to cope.

The teacher student relation domain includes 52% of problem focused responses. Again most of which are reported by girls. Under problem focused approach seeking help or advice from teacher, parents or friends is reported more by boys than girls. This is interesting because though more boys recount this alternative, they do not choose it as the best way to cope which is in contrast to the girls.

Girls also report more emotion-focused alternative than boys do, for the first two situations related to academics and heterosexual relationship. For the physical appearance domain boys report more emotion focused alternatives. This denotes that coping varies not only across gender but also across situations for the same gender.

Though there are differences in gender regarding the number of responses under each coping ways, similarities are observed in the kind of responses. For example in domain related to teacher student relations, asking friends about effective methods to study is reported by both boys and girls under problem focused approach. Also it has the highest frequency for both genders. Similarly, focusing on other subjects is given second preference by both genders. Again digression is reported more for the situation related to academics similarly by both.

For the physical appearance domain, similarities between gender is observed where both boys and girls reveal emotion focused responses compared to the other domains. The adolescents use affective regulation and cognitive redefinition i.e. they are working at their feelings regarding the stress and also trying to look at something positive in the situation, which is adaptive.

However, the emotion-focused responses in the teacher student relations domain reveal more impulsive behaviors and avoidance by both genders which may not be adaptive. Adolescents’ perception about best coping alternative

For the academics domain, 63% adolescents report problem focused approach to be the best alternatives, 38% of which are girls.5% responses are emotion focused out of which boys give both of them.

In the digression category, 40% adolescent report taking a break away from studies for sometime, 22.5% of these responses are of boys. Here it can be noted that most adolescents have shifted from emotion-focused responses to problem-focused responses.

For the situation related to heterosexual relationship, 79% adolescents report problem-focused approach. Here girls report about seeking help from parents and elders, while boys report to seek help only from friends. Out of the 12% of adolescent who choose emotion-focused responses, girls (10%) reports most of them. Here girls display adaptive ways of emotional discharge while boys report denial.

For the domain teacher student relation as depicted in (Appendices), 81% adolescent prefer problem-focused approach.. Here 13% adolescent select emotion focused approach, where boys report mal-adaptive responses like avoiding the situation & rationalization, and girls report accepting the situation as it is. Boys (6%) report seeking recreation & entertainment as a best coping alternative.

As seen in (Appendices), 74% adolescent select problem focused responses. More girls (43%) than boys give problem-focused responses. Here 27% of adolescent report emotion focused responses out of which 15% are boys. Boys report cognitive redefinition i.e. looking for good points & accepting self more than girls. Girls prefer to remain passive in the emotion-focused category.

Adolescents’ perception about need and importance of appropriate ways of coping and reasons for the same.

98% respondents felt that it is important for adolescent to be aware of adaptive coping ways. However one boy felt it was not important as“ adolescent is an age to experiment and so they need not be made aware of . They can experience and learn from it and cope on their own.” Presence of too many stressors; existence of maladaptive coping mechanisms and the susceptibility of adolescents to both good and bad influences emerge as major reasons for the need and importance of adaptive coping for adolescence. Adolescents recognize that what they do for coping may not always lead to relaxation. For instance “Watching TV would not relax our mind”. This indicates adolescents seek support and guidance from adults and acknowledge that adults can suggest better strategies to cope with stress. Also they report Adolescence is a age when you experiment different methods to cope, which may not be appropriate.”

Ideal ways of coping for a boy and girl

Both girls and boys feel that boys keep things to themselves, however they must also talk out things to someone close to relieve stress. As a girl reports “Boys should also talk to parents or siblings but if not possible to friends”. Another instance where a boy admits “ under highly frustrating situations anybody would want to talk”. Girls further explain that “boys take to bad habits like smoking because they don’t share things, they get frustrated by keeping things inside themselves”. Talking things out with parents is considered best for girls by both genders and boys also feel that “girls are more close to parents”.Girls report crying for themselves as well as boys

A boy also unveils that he would cry at times and not care when people say “ kya ladkio jaise rota hai”. This displays that adolescents feel the need of catharsis and consider it helpful and positive for relieving stress for both genders. Yet, social norms make catharsis difficult for boys. This manifests in other forms of aggressive behaviors observed in boys. Both boys and girls feel that girls prefer to watch T.V. while boys prefer going out with friends.

The study also includes the Gender Analysis Framework, which depicts that difference in adolescents coping ways are chiefly due to differences in temperaments of the boys and girls, activities preferred by them and due to social norms. Parental attitude towards adolescents coping ways is also perceived to vary due to differences in temperaments of the boys and girls and social norms.

Parents are perceived as understanding and supportive, in case of the academics and physical appearance domain by most of adolescence. However in the two domains dealing with relationships most adolescents feel that parents will give suggestions as to how to cope.

More number of adolescents perceive gender difference in parental attitude for domains related to the heterosexual relationship and physical appearance. Chiefly boys perceive this difference than the girls. Adolescents report “conservatism” as a factor for such differences. A girl relates “They’ll be less concerned if I were a boy as society always points out girls mistake”.Or as boys reports “ Parents feel insecure with girls, because of which they’ll be more strict”.


Common understanding and scientific literature reveal that adolescence could be a difficult phase of life. The way in which individuals experience this stage today is different when compared with the earlier times. This may be attributed to the changing scenario especially where the traditional societies are undergoing transition. The more westernized these societies become, the more the adolescents experience role confusion. (Thomas 2001)

This transition can be illustrated by considering the changes in India. In traditional India, the problem of role confusion or Erikson’s identity crisis did not exist. People belonged to the specific ‘Varnas’ and were prescribed specific roles and tasks. The existence of the ‘Gurukul’ system, where all were treated equally also ruled out competition. Notwithstanding the influence of the social changes due to globalization, modernization and more importantly westernization, Indian adolescents face similar problems like “role-confusion” as faced by adolescents in the west. In addition to this they also experience conflict between their traditional values and the western values. Adolescents also report ‘authority crisis’ as given by Kakar. S, and Chowdhry. A. (1970). ‘Authority crisis’ relates to the decreasing capacity of familial, educational, religious, social and political institutions to command Indian youth.

Influence of westernization is most evident among the high-income adolescents. This is so because they are particularly susceptible to western influences as a result of greater exposure to the western cultures. In addition to this the affluent groups have the necessary means and resources required to adopt the western lifestyles. The manner in which these adolescents dress; the kind of language used, for instance “tell my parents to shut up as I know best what I am doing” or “If adolescents cannot cope with stress they would ‘screw up’ their lives”, peer culture and rebellion towards authority is evidence for the above. Another argument is related to the status quo. The low-income groups are susceptible to the influence of the middle-income groups while middle-income group compete with the higher income groups, therefore the high-income group contest with the west. However western influence does not completely erase the Indian values or ‘sanskars’. In this case it is noted that, in spite of the rebellious attitude displayed by the Indian Youth or Yuva, they also show concern and respect for the authority. For instance though adolescents report “ I know what’s best for me” or “Tell parents I am responsible enough”, these phrases usually precede “I can understand their concern however…” or “parents tell us for our own benefit yet I would like to take my own decisions”.

Owing to the rapid changes and stresses associated with them we can conceive that this competitive environment may be hard on adolescents, as well as their parents and other concerned adults. Here again we can comment that the parental stress would vary across the different SES, as coping requires mobilizing different resources. The ability to mobilize these resources shall impact parental attitude towards adolescent coping options and hence impact adolescent coping ways. In the present study adolescents have stated problem solving options such as “Go to dermatologist to improve looks” or “Change my wardrobe and wear trendy clothes” or “my parents will provide me all that I need to improve my studies, such as good books, tuitions and everything” which many of their peers belonging from middle or lower SES might not have considered practical as these options are expensive. One adolescent boy also considered going for a surgery for it is a sure way to improve looks!

“Stress war” business has already crossed $ 9.4 in America since 1996(data compiled from internet sources). In India also we may expect similar trends where many people are investing time and money to learn about stress busters. Ancient Indian stress-relievers such as Yoga and meditation have gained much importance and they attract the west also towards the east. Yoga and meditation are sciences that are concerned with all aspects of human functioning. Yoga science provides a unifying framework by which stress can be understood and eliminated and meditation is a systematic method that allows on to understand oneself and the environment at various levels, thus eliminating inner conflicts and creating peace. (Pestonjee,1997)

The respondents of the present have also acknowledged increase in the number of stressors experienced by the adolescents today. For instance “There is so much competition today. Life is much more complex because apart from stress due to academics we face stress in relationship, there is peer pressure and there is a need to popular”. Further in the present study it is reiterated that adolescence as a stage itself is stressful, in words of an adolescent “Small things can worry an adolescent”.

Therefore one may ask, are the adolescents today able to cope and adapt to the rapid changes taking place within themselves and their environments? . It is encouraging to note that in the present study, adolescents reveal awareness about a variety of coping alternatives which encompass action-oriented problem solving behaviors, information seeking behaviors, use of emotional discharge, affective regulation and cognitive restructuring of the problem. Other ways detailed are alternative therapies like meditation, yoga and Reiki.

Moreover adolescents also reveal knowledge about various maladaptive coping ways under a given situation, which means they are aware of the pitfalls as well. However is the knowledge about the various coping alternatives and their benefits and pitfalls adequate? Probably not, as observed in the study, illustrations are as follows:

Incomplete knowledge about the coping way. For instance a boy reports that “Meditation and Yoga are said to relieve stress, however I think its good only for a while, ek,do minute aankhe band karne se kya hota hai, as one has to face the reality at some point.”

  • Maladaptive strategy seems convenient or easy. As a boy illustrates “Talking bad things about the teacher to the friends is easier than doing qualitative studying.”

Rigidity in one’s temperament: For instance “Frankly, I am egoistic. I’ll never say sorry. I’ll forget about her even if that makes me cry.”

  • Societal expectations / gender norms:

The present study reveals that coping among adolescents is governed by societal expectations. As a girl illustrates “It is better to change my attitude, but I’ll change my appearance” i.e. though the girls prefer to use an emotion focussed approach, like cognitive redefinition, they end up taking a problem solving action as in this case. This is because society expects girls to look good.

In the same vein a boy tells “boys are beyond looks, girls need to care more for it, so best is to not care”. Here the boy instead of using a problem focussed alternative like “improving on looks” prefers to use cognitive avoidance which may not be adaptive, because even for the boys physical appearance is a cause of concern at this age. Kurian, S. (2003) describes that more boys feel stressed due to biological changes and physical appearance, as they cannot share the anxiety caused due to it with their parents while girls can easily communicate their concerns with their mothers.

Therefore awareness and knowledge about coping alternatives does not necessarily guarantee the choice of adaptive coping option as there are other factors that influence the selection of coping ways. Getting information about effective coping mechanisms is very easy in this age of information technology. In addition to this adolescents need guidance regarding how to use the knowledge effectively. Also at times the information available to them is inappropriate. As few adolescents felt that meditation is a form of escapism! One can understand this from the adolescent’s perspective because he/she may be right in thinking that when one is stressed; one can use the stress for solving the problem rather than trying to relax in vain! However those who have known meditation would differ here and can help adolescents to use this stressful opportunity to not just do the best to understand the problem but also use it to gain an insight into the self, which is perceiving and experiencing the stress and simultaneously making efforts to cope with it. Moreover management of stress will actually be the by-product of meditation rather than the goal. As meditation, Yoga are techniques that help the individual change from within therefore it may help the person to change the very perception of stress.

For the adolescents to cope in an adaptive manner, they need support may be in terms of appropriate role models especially their parents and teachers. The present study shows that a number of adolescents prefer to turn to their parents and teachers for help, apart from their peers, as explained by an adolescent “Parents can guide us better than friends, as our friends are as immature as us.” This finding is in contrast to earlier researches (Kurian, S.; 2003) and the general notion that mainly their peers influence adolescents. Nevertheless adolescents’ preferences regarding approaching parents over friends varies depending on the stressor.

Yet, before we discuss about what parents and adults can do to assist adolescents, it is essential to understand the patterns of adolescent coping.

How do adolescents cope with stress? Some adolescents withdraw from others, some lash out at others, and some actively seek the comfort of others. Although adolescents cope with stress in different ways, there are general patterns in their coping behaviors. Adolescents’ coping ways that emerge in the study can be categorized into: problem focussed; which involves trying to deal with the problem by changing the situation or working towards the problem. Another way of handling stress is managing emotions; which involves handling the thoughts and feelings caused by the problem.

Adolescents use both methods, and both can be effective, depending on what the problem is. The present study unfolds that people who deal with their problems, see the positive side of difficult situations, and take part in activities they enjoy are more likely to be well adjusted. Acting to solve problems often requires planning and learning new skills. For example, coping with poor grades might require learning study skills and managing time.

Managing emotions can also be helpful in the early stages of coping with a problem. For example, talking out, crying out and positive thinking can be important ways of getting prepared to cope more directly with difficult situations. Another way of resolving stressful situations is to find meaning in the experience. It helps if youngsters can see that something good is coming out of the problem.

Finally, doing something enjoyable provides ‘time out’ from stress. It often "recharges batteries" so the person can go back to dealing with stress. Similar patterns of coping among adolescents has been reviewed by Ebata, A.T. (1996)

Comparing coping ways between gender shows that some of the findings related to gender differences in coping ways are consistent with previous studies in this area. Biswas, P.C. (1989) reveals that girls show greater patience in an frustrating situation while boys use denial more and tend to evade blame altogether. These emerging gender differences also matched with the perceived gender differences in the present study. For an example a girl narrates, “As boy I would have not pursued the subject further, as a girl I am more patient.” A boy also confesses “A girl can easily express her feelings to her beloved, as a boy I prefer forgetting the situation.” Other illustrations are: a girl “as a boy I would have been very immature.” A boy “girls are more sensible at times.” Boys reveal more problem-focussed responses for some situations while girls for others. Similarly boys are more prone to emotional focussed coping under certain stressors. Girls reveal more adaptive use of emotion focussed approach vis-à-vis boys. Similarities between the genders have also been observed. Overall across situations adolescents are more problem focussed.

The social changes taking place also has affected the family structure and parenting styles. The present study reveals that adolescents’ perceive that their parents are understanding and supportive. For instance a girl reports, “My parents are very practical. They will understand my problems and bend rules for me.” Parents deal with offspring in a more responsive and democratic way than before as cited in Aggarwal N., (2003). However broader social forces at work undermine the best intentions of both parents and teachers. Materialism and the focus on individualism, have both gained a dominance in Western culture which is undermining the best efforts of those seeking to offer a closer representation of the truth of being human. (Sarkar P.R)

Gender differences that emerge as a result of differences in the temperaments of boys and girls may also be a result of societal norms, as temperaments are not purely biological.

Another aspect about adolescent coping as the study reveals is that adolescents coping ways vary under varying situations. As observed in the results for some situations, adolescents are more likely to use problem focussed approach vis-à-vis the emotion focussed approach. Also variation in responses is observed within the emotion focussed approach i.e. more adaptive responses like cognitive redefinition and restructuring of the problem, emotional discharge like crying etc for some situations while more of cognitive avoidance, acting on impulse like getting angry for other situations.

Some investigators have tried to address this issue by assessing the same coping responses in different situations. For instance, Sidle, Moos, Adams, and Cady (1969) examined individual and situational consistence in coping strategies by obtaining information about the use of 10 coping responses in each of three problem-story situations. They found some individual consistency (respondents tended to use preferred coping responses irrespective of the problem situation), as well as some situational variability (the three stories elicited different coping responses).Folkman and Lazarus (1980) unroll that both problem-focused and emotion-focused responses are used in nearly every coping episode. There is some stability in the use of specific coping responses for a person across episodes, but in general individuals were characterized more by variability than by stability in coping patterns. This kind of individual stability and variance in coping across situation has not been examined in the present study. However it suggests an interesting implication for further research.

Finally we come to discuss the role of parents in facilitating adaptive coping. Adults can help adolescents solve problems and manage their emotions in at least three ways. They can provide help, encouragement, and support during times of stress. They can help them develop the knowledge and skills to cope with future difficulties. And adults can get help for themselves when they need it. Parents may model effective coping skills. Encourage youth to develop a particular area of knowledge, talent, or skill to give them strong feelings of competence. They may help adolescents learn and practice problem-solving skills and develop social skills.

There are implications for future research. As pointed out in the present study, parents / teachers support is crucial for adolescents to cope with stress. Hence it becomes important to examine the coping mechanisms of parents and teachers.

The correlation between parental coping ways with adolescent coping ways may be explored.