Children’s mental health tops list of parents’ worries, survey finds


Forty percent of American parents are “extremely” or “very” worried that their children will struggle with anxiety or depression at some point, according to a new survey.

The Pew Research Center report said mental health was the biggest concern for parents, followed by bullying, which worried 35% of parents. These concerns outweighed fears of kidnapping, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, teenage pregnancies, and trouble with the police.

Concerns varied by race, ethnicity and income level, with about 4 in 10 Latino and low-income parents and 3 in 10 black parents saying they were extremely or very worried that their children could be shot, compared to about 1 in 10 high-income earners. or white parents.

Almost two-thirds of respondents said parenting has been at least a little harder than expected, around 41% say parenting is tiring and 29% say it’s stressful all or most of the time .

The report captured the perceptions of a nationally representative sample of 3,757 U.S. parents whose children were under 18 in 2022.

Experts say mental health issues among children and teens have skyrocketed in recent years.

“I would say that over the past 10 years since I’ve been practicing as a general pediatrician, I’ve seen a change in both the number of patients and of all ages struggling with anxiety and depression. And their parents worrying about it is a key issue,” said Dr. Katherine Williamson, pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Even before the pandemic, we were seeing the number of children and adolescents struggling with mental health issues skyrocket, and this has increased exponentially since the pandemic.”

Suicide has become the second leading cause of death in children ages 10 to 14 during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mental health related ER visits among teens ages 5-11 and 12-17 also jumped 24% and 31%, respectively.

Many parents feel helpless when their children have mental health issues because they don’t feel equipped to offer support in this area.

“They are unable to relieve [mental health issues] and approach it as they might if they were struggling with their grades or other things that seem more traditional for kids,” said Allen Sabey, a family therapist at Northwestern University’s Family Institute.

Parents who try to “practice, watch and connect with their own feelings will give them important insights into what’s wrong or right for their child,” he said.

When it comes to anxiety and depression in children, pediatricians say parents can watch for signs such as decreased interest or pleasure in things they previously enjoyed, poor self-esteem and changes in mood, appetite, or sleep.

Experts also say parents should consider how much and what social media content their child consumes, as research has shown it can have negative effects on their mental health.

But, they say, the fact that more parents recognize the importance of mental health in children is a step in the right direction.

“I always felt like there was so much resistance to seeking mental health care among the population I serve. And I’m actually happy that since the Covid pandemic, at least people are now recognizing this as a very key and important health need,” said Dr. Maggi Smeal, pediatrician at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health.

Smeal hopes that “everyone who interacts with children can be aware of these issues and feel empowered to identify and advocate for these children, to tell them to go see their primary care provider and be assessed as you are. do if your child has a cough or a fever or an ear infection.

The number of parents concerned about gun violence reflects the fact that guns are the leading cause of death among children in the United States, research has shown. From 2019 to 2020, the rate of firearm-related deaths increased by 29.5%, more than double the increase in the general population.

“Gun violence is a real risk to our children today. And it’s both being killed by someone else and taking your own life in the face of the mental health issues we see today,” said Williamson.

The survey found that black, Hispanic and low-income parents were the most likely to be concerned about gun violence, a finding that aligns with the communities most affected. Studies have shown that from 2018 to 2021, the rate of gun-related deaths doubled among black youth and increased by 50% among Hispanic youth. Another study found that children living in low-income areas are at higher risk of firearm death.

Direct and indirect exposure to gun violence can contribute to mental health problems.

“Even if they hear gunshots in their community, they hear adults talking, there are all kinds of ways children are traumatized and victimized by gun violence. And what we see are all the symptoms of anxiety, even in the youngest of children. We see children with somatic complaints – stomach aches, headaches. They have post-traumatic stress disorder,” Smeal said.

Most parents in the survey said that parenting is more difficult than expected and that they feel judgment from various sources.

“The findings of this report were, as a pediatrician and parent, exactly what you would expect. Parenting is the hardest thing you can do, and levels of stress and fatigue are very high, especially among parents of young children,” Smeal said.

According to experts, one of the best things parents can do is lean on other parents.

“The main challenge for parents is sometimes our independent, siled nature, and so we want to find people we trust who kind of work to be more vulnerable and open,” Sabey said. “Where it’s not just you and your child, but it’s kind of a group of people caring and working together.”

Pediatricians stress that no parent is perfect and the most important thing you can do is just be there for your child.

“We know that the best chance for a child to be successful and happy is if they have at least one person in their life who believes in them and stands up for them. So I think it’s important for parents to know that ‘There’s no such thing as a perfect parent because we’re all human and humans are imperfect by nature, but that’s okay,’ Williamson said.

A parent’s job is to “really make sure they know how important they are and have a voice in this world,” she said. “Each child will have their own challenges, whether academically, emotionally or physically. Our job is to help them in the areas [where] they struggle, but more so, help them recognize their strengths.

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