Children and stress
Children, tweens, and teens experience more stress than we may realize. What do they worry about and how does it affect them?
APA Survey Raises Concern about Parent Perceptions of Children’s Stress
November 3, 2009
Psychologists say Americans’ stress levels too high: Few receive support to make lasting lifestyle changes
New York—Stress related to school pressure and family finances has a greater impact on young people than parents believe, according to a new national survey released today by the American Psychological Association (APA). Building on past research indicating that stress is a top health concern for U.S. teens between 9th and 12th grade, psychologists say that if they don’t learn healthy ways to manage that stress now, it could have serious long-term health implications.
Teens and tweens were more likely than parents to say that their stress had increased in the last year. Nearly half (45 percent) of teens ages 13-17 said that they worried more this year, but only 28 percent of parents think their teen’s stress increased, and while a quarter (26 percent) of tweens ages 8-12 said they worried more this year, only 17 percent of parents believed their tween’s stress had increased. Similarly, only 2-5 percent of parents rate their child’s stress as extreme (an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) when 14 percent of tweens and 28 percent of teens say they worry a lot or a great deal.
“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.”
Parents’ responses about sources of stress for their children were out of sync with what children reported as sources of worry. 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