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Childhood Anxiety Steadily On the Rise Since the 1950s

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"Also, with geographic mobility among families, involving relocations to new cities, you are more likely to not know your neighbors, to be away from family members," she says, increasing a child's isolation and loneliness.

Children -- more than college students -- seemed to be most affected by the family's stress. "That may be because personality is forming during childhood and adolescence. You are going to carry your child environment with you the rest of your life," says Twenge.

She tells WebMD, though, that economic factors -- like a parent's unemployment -- "did not seem to play a role in creating anxiety in children." Apparently, children are less concerned with whether their family has enough money than whether it is threatened by violence or divorce, she says.

The bottom line: chronic anxiety takes a toll on long-term physical and mental health, Twenge says. "Anxiety can predispose to depression. Anxiety is also linked to higher incidence of physical health problems such as asthma, heart disease, gastrointestinal upsets."

To combat anxiety, she advises parents to limit children's -- and their own -- exposure to violent media. "People who watch local news perceive their neighborhoods as more dangerous," Twenge tells WebMD.

"Work on your connections with other people. Get to know your neighbors. Help your children build good relationships. Talk to friends and family about your worries and fears. Social relationships can serve as buffer against stress," she says. ... "Independence and freedom are wonderful things, but they often do mean we're not as connected with other people. It can be a trade off."

Also, examine your expectations about your life, Twenge suggests. She says that although there is currently not a lot of research to support this, "TV and movies have created higher expectations for us in terms of appearance, wealth, jobs, and relationships. That has meant that we aspire to an unreachable ideal, which can cause tremendous anxiety. I hate to say don't watch TV and go to movies, but you can remind yourself that this is an unrealistic ideal.

"You cannot change a child's genetics, but you can change the media they watch, help them with the quality of their relationships," she says. "It's difficult to change the entire society, but you can change society's impact on you and your family."

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