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The Increase in Childhood Anxiety

The Increase in Childhood Anxiety

The Increase in Childhood Anxiety

"Actually, if you think about it, our kids are the safest children to walk the planet in the history of the human race, no exaggeration....... and yet, we are diagnosing 10 times more anxiety disorders than 50 years ago."

      -Dr Alex Russell, as quoted on TED Talks, also author of "Drop the Worry Ball."

One of the biggest topics these days in the world of education is the prevalence of adolescent anxiety disorders.  At our professional development conference last Monday our faculty heard a compelling presentation on the subject by Dr. Alex Russell via TED Talks, and then later in the workshop we heard live from Dr. Richard Hooper, a local cardiologist, his concern about this trend continuing into the foreseeable future.

Why the increase in childhood anxiety?

If you will allow me, I have a couple of ideas that are intended strictly as conversation starters, and are in no way an attempt to undermine the incredible complexities and difficulties associated with adolescent anxiety.

  • Changing Diagnostic Criteria
  • The Impact of Mass Media
  • The Impact of Video Games
  • Social Media and 'Virtual' Social Lives
  • Text messaging's replacement of phone calls
  • Approaches to parenting, schooling and cultural changes in child rearing  

Changing diagnostic criteria.

Although the experts are stating that the diagnostic criteria has not changed, I can't help but to think that due to the increased sophistication regarding our understanding of environmental, chemical and predisposed factors regarding all clinical diagnosis, the criteria would have to change. Regardless of your position on the level of change in diagnostic criteria, there is pretty much a universal agreement that adolescent anxiety has been on the rise for some time.

The impact of mass media.

In the last 25 years or so, the number of 'vehicles' for news distribution has risen exponentially. Ever since O.J. drove that White Bronco down the freeway in California, the world of live news (as it happens) was born. The American news used to be run by ABC, NBC and CBS, and was primarily shown at 6PM and 11PM. However, with the explosion of outlets such as CNN and Fox (and many others), the news is far more competitive, and with that comes increased drama, incredible repetition, and often unsubstantiated or extreme perspectives.   We also know from current brain imaging, that the human brain has evolved to be much more responsive to negative events than positive ones. The networks know this and produce endless stories about tragic and concerning events. Although it is my belief that adults have the capacity to differentiate and compartmentalize this information, it may be difficult (or impossible) for a child to do so accordingly without it having a negative impact on their psyche. When my daughters were young, there was an abduction in Toronto and the news outlets were relentless with regard to constant updates and theories, and I distinctly remember this having a negative impact on my children by scaring them unnecessarily.

The impact of video games.

Personally I have never played a video game that shoots things (other than perhaps a golf ball). I have nothing against them; however, I have just never had the interest. These games are often set in an empty warehouse and include surviving by shooting things left, right and centre. In other instances, there is a military setting with semi automatic weapons and the mass shooting of bad guys. I am sure there are controlled longitudinal studies that are starting to indicate that spending time playing these games is not necessarily great for children. I am curious if there is any chance that regular and frequent exposure to such games at a young age may influence levels of anxiety?

Social media and 'virtual' social lives.

Regrettably, my social media existence is incredibly under developed so again I am speaking theoretically rather than from personal experience. (Note: I am saving Facebook, video games and real golf for retirement!) However, many of today's adolescents are living a rather virtual social life that is different than generations past. A large number of virtual friends on social media do not replace the intimacy of a small number of closer "real life" friendships. Interestingly, a teen can satisfy their social friendship needs with as little as one or two close friends. Also, the online world never really turns off and the constant exposure and access can be challenging. Virtual friendships can be a little superficial at times and may not provide the same support as traditional friendships.       


Text messaging's replacement of phone calls.

In particular, today's students' preference for text rather than actually talking on the phone is fascinating. When I discuss this with my youngest daughter, even the suggestion to give her friend a live call to sort out a matter elicits sheer horror. I am convinced that one of the reasons text is so comfortable for teens is the fact that response times are controlled. Talking on the phone requires immediate and constant interaction, and also includes the subtleties of voice tone and laughter.   Halting a conversation after virtually every exchange eliminates much of the personal interaction.

Approaches to parenting, schooling and cultural changes in child rearing. 

As just about any parent will confess, we live in a child centered environment. Today's children are heavily programmed with school, sports, dance, music, play dates and weekend birthday parties.   Most of these events are parent organized. At times, I am curious if we are providing enough time for recreational unstructured play? I am also not sure if our "medals for participation" mentality is representative of the real world. The term 'helicopter parent' has now been replaced by the 'snow plow parent' who simply clears the path of all obstacles. Children gain confidence when they independently overcome carefully selected obstacles. I think our job is to carefully select those obstacles. The other key here is independence; something we truly yearn for in all of our students/children.

In the last 20 years or so, there has been a marked decrease in the exposure of children to competitive situations. Examples include not keeping score, and rewarding all participants with trophies and medals. Although this proliferation of medals was done to promote esteem within the young competitors, I can't help but think that in some ways this practice may be counterproductive. Winning and losing in sport provides coaches and athletes excellent opportunities to deal with and learn from negative outcomes. The less desirable outcomes (losses, last minute defeat, lop sided encounters) can be very developmental experiences. One of the consistent traits among high performing athletes, and individuals in general, is their ability to deal effectively with losses and learn how to fail forward. Educators and parents have many opportunities to frame incidents. The frame that is selected for an incident can have a profound impact on the child's memory and resulting attitude(s).  On a personal note, we have one child who is a natural born worrier, so for her we are usually selecting frames that assist her with maintaining perspective.           


The good news is children are amazing.

Children are resilient and highly adaptable. They are hard-wired to cope with struggle and challenge.  What they are looking for more than anything is acceptance, a sense of belonging and unconditional support. The love and admiration of today's parents for their children is greater than ever in history and that is fantastic. Our unwavering support and commitment to their success is ultimately what will give them the strength to succeed and be happy.

Dr. Alex Russell is an expert in adolescent anxiety and presented a memorable TED Talks at Crescent School in Toronto. In this video, he discusses youth anxiety and some of his theories, including potential impacts of parenting. 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qryu48euY44

As always, I welcome your comments.

With warmest regards,

Chris Grieve

christopher.grieve@aberdeenhall.comThe Increase in Childhood Anxiety

"Actually, if you think about it, our kids are the safest children to walk the planet in the history of the human race, no exaggeration....... and yet, we are diagnosing 10 times more anxiety disorders than 50 years ago."

      -Dr Alex Russell, as quoted on TED Talks, also author of "Drop the Worry Ball."

One of the biggest topics these days in the world of education is the prevalence of adolescent anxiety disorders.  At our professional development conference last Monday our faculty heard a compelling presentation on the subject by Dr. Alex Russell via TED Talks, and then later in the workshop we heard live from Dr. Richard Hooper, a local cardiologist, his concern about this trend continuing into the foreseeable future.

Why the increase in childhood anxiety?

If you will allow me, I have a couple of ideas that are intended strictly as conversation starters, and are in no way an attempt to undermine the incredible complexities and difficulties associated with adolescent anxiety.

  • Changing Diagnostic Criteria
  • The Impact of Mass Media
  • The Impact of Video Games
  • Social Media and 'Virtual' Social Lives
  • Text messaging's replacement of phone calls
  • Approaches to parenting, schooling and cultural changes in child rearing  

Changing diagnostic criteria.

Although the experts are stating that the diagnostic criteria has not changed, I can't help but to think that due to the increased sophistication regarding our understanding of environmental, chemical and predisposed factors regarding all clinical diagnosis, the criteria would have to change. Regardless of your position on the level of change in diagnostic criteria, there is pretty much a universal agreement that adolescent anxiety has been on the rise for some time.

The impact of mass media.

In the last 25 years or so, the number of 'vehicles' for news distribution has risen exponentially. Ever since O.J. drove that White Bronco down the freeway in California, the world of live news (as it happens) was born. The American news used to be run by ABC, NBC and CBS, and was primarily shown at 6PM and 11PM. However, with the explosion of outlets such as CNN and Fox (and many others), the news is far more competitive, and with that comes increased drama, incredible repetition, and often unsubstantiated or extreme perspectives.   We also know from current brain imaging, that the human brain has evolved to be much more responsive to negative events than positive ones. The networks know this and produce endless stories about tragic and concerning events. Although it is my belief that adults have the capacity to differentiate and compartmentalize this information, it may be difficult (or impossible) for a child to do so accordingly without it having a negative impact on their psyche. When my daughters were young, there was an abduction in Toronto and the news outlets were relentless with regard to constant updates and theories, and I distinctly remember this having a negative impact on my children by scaring them unnecessarily.

The impact of video games.

Personally I have never played a video game that shoots things (other than perhaps a golf ball). I have nothing against them; however, I have just never had the interest. These games are often set in an empty warehouse and include surviving by shooting things left, right and centre. In other instances, there is a military setting with semi automatic weapons and the mass shooting of bad guys. I am sure there are controlled longitudinal studies that are starting to indicate that spending time playing these games is not necessarily great for children. I am curious if there is any chance that regular and frequent exposure to such games at a young age may influence levels of anxiety?

Social media and 'virtual' social lives.

Regrettably, my social media existence is incredibly under developed so again I am speaking theoretically rather than from personal experience. (Note: I am saving Facebook, video games and real golf for retirement!) However, many of today's adolescents are living a rather virtual social life that is different than generations past. A large number of virtual friends on social media do not replace the intimacy of a small number of closer "real life" friendships. Interestingly, a teen can satisfy their social friendship needs with as little as one or two close friends. Also, the online world never really turns off and the constant exposure and access can be challenging. Virtual friendships can be a little superficial at times and may not provide the same support as traditional friendships.       


Text messaging's replacement of phone calls.

In particular, today's students' preference for text rather than actually talking on the phone is fascinating. When I discuss this with my youngest daughter, even the suggestion to give her friend a live call to sort out a matter elicits sheer horror. I am convinced that one of the reasons text is so comfortable for teens is the fact that response times are controlled. Talking on the phone requires immediate and constant interaction, and also includes the subtleties of voice tone and laughter.   Halting a conversation after virtually every exchange eliminates much of the personal interaction.

Approaches to parenting, schooling and cultural changes in child rearing. 

As just about any parent will confess, we live in a child centered environment. Today's children are heavily programmed with school, sports, dance, music, play dates and weekend birthday parties.   Most of these events are parent organized. At times, I am curious if we are providing enough time for recreational unstructured play? I am also not sure if our "medals for participation" mentality is representative of the real world. The term 'helicopter parent' has now been replaced by the 'snow plow parent' who simply clears the path of all obstacles. Children gain confidence when they independently overcome carefully selected obstacles. I think our job is to carefully select those obstacles. The other key here is independence; something we truly yearn for in all of our students/children.

In the last 20 years or so, there has been a marked decrease in the exposure of children to competitive situations. Examples include not keeping score, and rewarding all participants with trophies and medals. Although this proliferation of medals was done to promote esteem within the young competitors, I can't help but think that in some ways this practice may be counterproductive. Winning and losing in sport provides coaches and athletes excellent opportunities to deal with and learn from negative outcomes. The less desirable outcomes (losses, last minute defeat, lop sided encounters) can be very developmental experiences. One of the consistent traits among high performing athletes, and individuals in general, is their ability to deal effectively with losses and learn how to fail forward. Educators and parents have many opportunities to frame incidents. The frame that is selected for an incident can have a profound impact on the child's memory and resulting attitude(s).  On a personal note, we have one child who is a natural born worrier, so for her we are usually selecting frames that assist her with maintaining perspective.           


The good news is children are amazing.

Children are resilient and highly adaptable. They are hard-wired to cope with struggle and challenge.  What they are looking for more than anything is acceptance, a sense of belonging and unconditional support. The love and admiration of today's parents for their children is greater than ever in history and that is fantastic. Our unwavering support and commitment to their success is ultimately what will give them the strength to succeed and be happy.

Dr. Alex Russell is an expert in adolescent anxiety and presented a memorable TED Talks at Crescent School in Toronto. In this video, he discusses youth anxiety and some of his theories, including potential impacts of parenting. 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qryu48euY44

As always, I welcome your comments.

With warmest regards,

Chris Grieve

christopher.grieve@aberdeenhall.com

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