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INTRODUCTION: Stress can have a significant effect on an adolescent's long-term physical and mental well-being. An understanding of the role of unmanaged stress during early adolescence is critical for the prevention of chronic diseases such as depression. The purpose of the Shifting the Lens study was to explore perceptions of stress, sources of social support, and use of coping strategies among urban African American ninth graders.

METHODS: A youth-driven, mixed-method approach was used to assess teens' perceptions of stress. During the 2001-2002 school year, teen participants (N = 26) from East Baltimore, Md, completed questionnaires, audio journals, pile-sort activities, and personal social support network maps.

RESULTS: In contrast with existing literature that emphasizes the influence of violence and neighborhood factors on stress among teens, teens prioritized other sources of stress, particularly from school, friends, and family. For support, they relied on different individuals, depending on the source of the stress — friends for romantic relationship stress and family for job, school, and family stress. Sex differences in the coping styles of the participating teens were found. Girls reported more frequent use of support-seeking and active coping strategies than boys.

CONCLUSION: The use of multiple data collection strategies to explore stress uniquely contributes to our understanding of how one group of teens perceives and copes with stress. Future research should explore stress from the youth perspective in communities that are similar to East Baltimore, Md. In addition, programmatic recommendations include the need for sex-specific stress management activities and education about youth stress for adults. Community participatory translation interventions based on study findings, such as a youth-produced video and a resource guide for youth service providers, were implemented.

Reprinted with permission from Preventing Chronic Disease, Vol. 3, No. 2, April 3, 2006, pp. 1-10, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Originally published in: Preventing Chronic Disease, Vol. 3, No. 2, April 3 2006, pp. 1-10.

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