For many of us, childhood was a carefree time of little responsibility with plenty of opportunity for play and exploration. However, the situation isn’t quite the same for today’s kids, who often find themselves dealing with hours of homework each week, extensive testing in school and extra-curricular activities as well.
Over half has shown signs of depression
Research into children’s wellbeing suggests that today’s kids are more anxious than those of generations past. What’s more is that this has ramifications not only on their academic success and overall happiness, but also on their health. Dr. Stuart Slavin, a professor based at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, believes that excessive emphasis on academic success has resulted in an unprecedented epidemic of anxiety and depression in adolescents.
Dr. Slavin undertook a survey in which he asked 1400 students from Irvington High School, Silicon Valley, about their mental wellbeing. He administered two commonly-used tools for assessing mental health, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. He was shocked to discover that over half of the participants showed signs of moderate or severe depression, and over three-quarters struggled with anxiety. Furthermore, these figures may not even tell the full story because some of these students missed the opportunity to take the survey, in order to sit and write school exams.
Teenagers feel as stressed as adults
Traditionally, high-pressure academic environments and resulting mental health issues were thought to be the preserve of elite institutions attended by middle and upper-class students. However, it appears that young people of every socioeconomic background are impacted by the ever-increasing demands placed upon them. A study of over 1,000 teenagers carried out by the American Psychological Association showed that although they may officially have fewer responsibilities, teenagers feel as stressed as adults, especially during the school year.
Continuous pressure to maintain high grades can also exert a negative impact on a child’s physical health. Medical science has long known of the connection between pressure, stress and various ailments in adults, but increasingly children and teens are also showing signs of illness caused by prolonged anxiety. Dr. Lawrence Rosen, a paediatrician based in New Jersey, has called attention to the increasing numbers of children he sees in his clinics with stress-related issues including stomach ulcers and migraines. These early life experiences are training children to accept high stress levels as inevitable and normal. The current generation of children are learning that the cost of success is illness, and they are likely to carry this unhealthy attitude with them as they move on to adulthood.
What can concerned parents do?
To avoid subjecting your child to undue stress, focus on affirming them for who they are rather than what you may wish for them to be. Each child has their own special mix of talents and abilities, so find out what your child is good at and praise them accordingly rather than dwelling on their weaknesses. Moreover, children should be given regular, unstructured free-time, in which they can relax and learn to entertain themselves. This teaches them that they do not need to concern themselves only with academic or professional success, and that they need not rely on others to schedule entertaining activities for them. Finally, children should also be taught that moral character and making a positive contribution to the wider world is just as important as academic success. Parents can model this behavior, and encourage their children to become well-rounded citizens.