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Too Many Parents Unaware of Kids’ Stress

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Results of a study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) called 2009 “Stress in America Survey” were released in November, 2009. Harris Interactive resided over the poll online, surveying 1568 adults over age 18, and the results were pretty predictable. We’re a very stressed-out society.

“It’s clear that parents do not fully appreciate the impact that stress is having on their kids.”

“It’s clear that parents do not fully appreciate the impact that stress is having on their kids.”

At the same time, Harris conducted a Youth Query that involved 1206 kiddos 8-17 years old, and I’m focusing on these results. The results are troubling because of the level of stress reported by the kids. The results are extremely troubling because “Parents’ responses about sources of stress for their children were out of sync with what children reported as sources of worry,”  according to the report.

On top of stress from school pressure, according to the press release issued by APA, “Children were more likely to say they worried about their family’s financial difficulties than parents were to say this was a source of stress for their children (30 percent vs. 18 percent of parents). Results are similar for doing well in school (44 percent vs. 34 percent of parents). In general, children also were more likely to report having experienced physical symptoms often associated with stress than parents were to say their children experienced these symptoms, including headaches, difficulty sleeping, and changes in appetite.”

Tweens (30 percent) and teens (42 percent) say they get headaches vs. 13 percent of parents
Tweens (39 percent) and teens (49 percent) cite difficulty sleeping vs. 13 percent of parents
Tweens (27 percent) and teens (39 percent) report eating too much or too little vs. 8 percent of parents

Indeed, teens and tweens were more likely than parents to say that their stress had increased in the last year.

“It’s clear that parents do not fully appreciate the impact that stress is having on their kids,” says psychologist Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice. “What we’re seeing with stress is in line with existing research about parents’ perception of their kids’ engagement in risky behaviors. Parents often under report drug use, depression and sexual activity in their children. Now it appears the same may be true for stress.”

As adults, we can get so wrapped up in our own stressors that we don’t see those around us, including our children, clearly. It’s important, though, no matter what is going on in our world, to do what is necessary to protect our children from the consequences of stress. As you can see from the reports of symptoms above, stress affects the practices of basic good health, such as eating and sleeping, as well as producing dis-ease, in the form of headaches and other physical ailments, some of which could have lifelong implications.

For children already stressed about school-related issues, the additional stress from economic pressures on the family could turn your child into a pressure-cooker, just waiting to explode. Parents at the Helm would do well to speak with children about what’s going on in their minds and hearts, and consider removing the school-related issues via homeschooling to provide some relief. Surprisingly, the press release doesn’t mention, but you should be aware of, the reality that children will pick up on the stress of those around them, even if they don’t understand it. Become extra observant during these turbulent times, as often children don’t know how to express or deal with stress. Let your eyes and ears tell you what your child’s words may not.

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