Fresh Ideas: Children feeling the stress of economic crisis
Most parents work hard to understand how their children are feeling. Surely, we believe, we can tell when our children are upset. However, a new nationwide study, published last month by the American Psychological Association, suggests your children may be more stressed than you realize.
This study indicates that stress in our children is at an all-time high and stress is now the No. 1 health concern of high school students. The cause of children’s stress is the very same economic pressure that is causing stress in parents.
Twelve hundred children, ages 8 to 17, and their parents were interviewed. Nearly half of the teenagers (ages 13-17) interviewed reported feeling more stressed in 2009 than ever before. Surprisingly, only 28 percent of their parents thought their children were stressed. Similarly, 26 percent of tweens, those children ages 8 to 12, reported feeling more stressed in 2009, and only 17 percent of their parents observed it.
Obviously, many parents are experiencing astronomical levels of stress themselves. One of the by-products of our own stress may be that we are unintentionally not paying as much attention to the emotions of our children. It is also likely that children don’t want to further burden their stressed parents by disclosing their worries.
The financial indicators in Nevada suggest that our economic well-being will not be improving anytime soon and will be lagging behind the rest of the country. It is crucial that all of us who have children, or who work with them, become better at understanding the stress children feel and at figuring out how we can help them.
So, the million dollar question is: How do you balance protecting your children from adult struggles they can’t handle versus using struggles to teach them how to overcome hard times?
Don’t tell your kids about worries (“I’m worried I might lose my job”) until they become realities (“I am getting laid off”). When you do give them the bad news, also tell them your family will be OK. Make sure they know you have a plan to deal with the problem. A friend who just lost her home told her kids they would be moving into an apartment and their friends took their pets. She assured her family they could survive on unemployment benefits until she found another job.
Model to your children how to cope with stress. For example, tell them you are calling a friend because you are upset or ask them to go out for a walk with you because it makes you feel better. Tell them how you are feeling and ask them how they are feeling. Help them understand that life always has its ups and downs and one of the best skills in life is learning how to cope when things gets tough.
By keeping open lines of communications with your children you will teach them the most important lesson of all: that you can get through anything together.
• Lisa Keating, Ph.D., is a Carson City clinical psychologist.