Nelson child therapist Bridget Thompson says there are a number of factors contributing to the adolescent anxiety epidemic. Photo: Supplied.

Why are today’s children so anxious?


Society’s unrealistic expectations of both parents and children are creating a generation of anxious kids, according to a local psychologist.

“Anxious parents often have anxious children,” Nelson child therapist Bridget Thompson says.

Her comments come after the Nelson Weekly reported on Nelson Bays Football’s recent decision to no longer publish junior results tables.

Local principals defended the move while some parents saw it as wrapping kids in cotton wool. However, health workers and educators say we are dealing with a different child than we were a decade ago.

Bridget says there isn’t any one factor contributing to the adolescent anxiety epidemic.

“Each child with anxiety has their own story and often there are a variety of reasons.”
However, she says poverty, expectations and the rise of electronic devices can all contribute.

Bridget says poverty and housing shortages are contributing to social issues such as drug and alcohol dependency, causing stress for the whole family, including the children.

She also cites greater expectations by society on what families should provide.

“Both parents are often working to provide for the family, not only just to get by but to also the meet societal pressure of going on holidays, buying a house or having more than one car.”

She says this causes exhaustion and relationship stress which then impacts on the children.

“Parents don’t have the energy to give emotional support to their children and one to one time often doesn’t happen frequently enough.”

As a result, children often don’t feel heard and will then not discuss how they are feeling for fear of creating more stress for their parents.

Society’s unrealistic expectations don’t stop with the parents.

“There are huge expectations on children to do well at school and to do several activities.”

Bridget says this means that often there isn’t much down time to just play, create, or learn to be bored.

“Learning to manage boredom is something that children today are not very good at.”

The decline of kids just being kids is also exacerbated by technology and the modern child’s difficulties with self-regulating, she says.

“As mammals, we learn to self-regulate through interaction with other people, we learn to assess the safety of a person and situation through noticing facial expressions and movements.”

Bridget says people are developing a need for regulating through devices such as phones and laptops rather, than by face to face interaction.

“Unfortunately, education is moving more and more away from face to face interaction and therefore the child’s nervous system doesn’t have the opportunity to exercise the normal regulatory circuits associated through engagement with other people.”

She says, as a result, the nervous system doesn’t build the strength it needs to self-regulate.

“Education is based on learning more and more information, which involves sitting for long periods of time rather than focusing on activities that foster creativity such as play, music, art, dance and physical exercise, all of which require social engagement.