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Hey - your kids are stressed out too!

By Nicola Freeman

Kids are more stressed out this year – and many parents are missing or ignoring the signs.

That appears to be the conclusion of the American Psychology Association's annual Stress in America survey, which for the first time included children.

Not surprisingly, stress levels are up across the board this year. Seventy-five per cent of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the month prior to the survey, with moms generally reporting higher stress levels than dads.  Financial concerns are at the top of the list, with money, the economy and housing costs all cited as significant causes of stress.

As families across America face challenging times, the survey suggests that stress and worry are having more of an impact on young people than parents believe. Nearly half (45 per cent) of teens ages 13-17 said they worried more this year, but only 28 per cent of parents believed that their teen's stress levels had increased.

There is also a significant disconnect between what parents believe causes stress in children and what children themselves consider worrisome. Children were two times more likely to say they worried about their family's financial difficulties than their parents perceived. This gap between children's actual stress levels and parents' perceptions extended to many other areas, including relationships with other family members, school worries, and concerns about getting into a good school or getting a job.

Katherine Nordal, a clinical psychologist at the APA, suggests that parents need to start by coming clean with their kids about their own worries. "Younger children tend to blame themselves for problems," she says. "If the kid doesn't know what's going on, they're likely to assume a worst-case scenario or make a problem bigger than it is."

Parents also need to make time to find out what is troubling their kids. Here, technology takes part of the blame. "When a parent is plugged into a BlackBerry, cell phone, video game or television, they're not going to have enough time with their kids for issues like that to come up," says Nordal. In fact, 85 per cent of the kids surveyed said they weren't comfortable talking with Mom or Dad, often because their parents were too busy.

The APA offers guidance for parents on identifying increased stress levels in their kids:

  • watch for negative changes in behavior;
  • understand that "feeling sick" may be caused by stress, including complaints of frequent headaches and stomach upsets;
  • be aware of how your child interacts with others;
  • listen and translate: children using words such as "confused" and "angry" or expressions such as "nothing is fun anymore" are often important indicators of increased stress levels.

Comment by William R. Taylor, M.D., posted 11/12/2009, 4:56 PM:

Wise advice! Stress can also trigger vicious cycles in families. Visitors might want to read "REDUCE STRESS--RECYCLE YOUR FAMILY!" appearing in installments at http://www.stressedfamily.blogspot.com. Click the "September" link on the blog to read about overcoming cycles such as nagging/avoiding chores, where each person blames the other for causing a cycle that goes on and on, time after time, back and forth. "If he did it the first time I ask, I wouldn't have to nag." Versus: "If she didn't nag, I would do it a lot quicker." The challenge is to blame the cycle, not each other. Get some ideas about switching to positive cycles of love and support. Hope to see you at http://www.stressedfamily.blogspot.com. Or visit http://StressedFamily.com Sincerely, William R. Taylor, M.D. Connecticut, USA
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