Are you stressed out? Are your kids stressed out? Are you contributing to your kids' stress? The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests all of the above in their recently released 2010 Stress in America survey report.
Since 2006, the APA has conducted annual surveys to get a picture of what stresses America. Specifically, they seek to ascertain who is stressed out and what causes that stress. And apparently, this year's results have psychologists cautioning that stress could become "a public health crisis."
In general, the APA report suggests that Americans are a harried lot. The APA concluded that once again, the majority of Americans surveyed said they were living with moderate or high levels of stress. "Year after year nearly three-quarters of Americans say they experience stress at levels that exceed what they define as healthy," reports the APA's CEO. One-third of the 1,307 parents of children ages 8-17 that responded to the survey reported extreme levels of stress.
In addition to adults over age 18, children ages 8-17 were also surveyed regarding stress. The most interesting findings of the APA study, in my opinion: The level of stress that tweens and teens experience; the cause of their stress; and their parents' lack of awareness as to what causes their kids' stress. Indeed, the report's authors suggest "There is a disconnect between what parents believe causes stress in children and what children consider worrisome."
According to the APA survey study results, nearly 1 in 5 of youth ages 8-17 said they worry a lot about problems in their lives. Interestingly though, only 8 percent of parents surveyed believed their children experienced a lot of stress.
In fact, the youth-group reported the following reasons for their stress:
44 percent school
28 percent money
22 percent friends
17 percent appearance (especially regarding weight)
5 percent the future
In addition, the majority of kids surveyed reported that they can tell when their parents are feeling stress (because they see them arguing, yelling and complaining, or because of a lack quality time spent with them), which in turn causes them to feel a host of different emotions. Thirty-nine percent of youth (ages 8-17) reported feeling both sad and worried when their parents are stressed. Of the 8-12 group, 47 percent reported that their parents' stress made them feel sad, and 43 percent of the 13-17 year-olds said it caused them to feel worried. Other emotions reportedly experienced by kids, especially among the older group: Frustrated, annoyed, helpless, angry, scared, and alone. Only 14 percent of all kids surveyed said they were not bothered by their parent's stress. Meanwhile, close to 7 in 10 parents reportedly believed that their stress had little or no impact on their children. The APA's CEO suggests that, "This possible disconnect within the family could have long‐term implications for young people, many of whom don't appear to be getting the support they need to identify and understand stress or to learn healthy strategies for managing stress."
The 2010 Stress in America study specifically addressed the health implications of stress on youth including headaches, sleeping difficulties, stomach ailments, eating too much or too little, and indolence. The study further explored the impact of being overweight on stress, and the cyclical nature of stress, excess weight, and overeating. In fact, overweight children were far more likely to report suffering the aforementioned health concerns. The APA report suggests that children who are overweight could benefit from appropriate counsel on weight management, nutrition, and stress-coping mechanisms, and are more likely to successfully break the cycle.
Communicating with your family (especially your children) about stress is recommended by the APA. Experts suggest that your children will worry less if you confess to them the stress that you feel and the plan you have instituted to manage the stressful situations. Further, it is suggested that you will be in a better position to keep your angst in-check if you fully recognize the effect your stress has on your children. Finally, the most important suggestion is that you talk to your kids about what causes them anxiety and provide them with the tools to cope with it.