Childhood Anxiety Steadily On the Rise Since the 1950s
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."
Calling Twenge's study "very good research," Nadine
Kaslow, PhD, professor and chief psychologist at Emory University School of
Medicine in Atlanta, tells WebMD, "it brings together information from many
different studies, giving us a very comprehensive overview of this problem.
"We know that less social connectedness makes you more
anxious and more afraid," she says. "Kids feel less safe and secure.
And with these environmental dangers, they're frightened. The world doesn't
feel like such a safe place. People don't seem as trustworthy. And if there's
divorce and other problems, life inside the family may not feel as predictable
As adults, Kaslow says, "they're likely to become more
anxious, more vulnerable to substance abuse, depressed. I think it's harder to
form relationships when you're anxious; it's harder to take chances."
The point, says Kaslow, is that "parents and other adults
really need to attend to kids' anxieties. They need to take extra time every
day to make sure they nurture their kids, that when something distressing
happens in the home or environment they spend enough time processing it with
the kids, talking about their fears and anxieties, putting an emphasis on
making their lives as stable and supportive and nurturing and predictable as
possible. Anxiety's about unpredictability."