Gone are the “lazy days of summer” and with school back in session the words “stress” and “anxiety” slowly creep back into the day to day language of many families. In fact, a recent national We MD survey about children and stress found “that most parents rate school and friends as the biggest source of stress in their kids’ lives”. The survey also found that “72% of children have negative behaviors linked to stress, and 62% have physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches”.
So, after reading this survey it only served to confirm what I have been seeing in my practice for years….very anxious, worried and stressed children of all ages. I can attest to the fact that it is definitely affecting younger and younger children. Much of my general practice now involves more psychiatry than infectious disease (thank goodness for immunizations!).
I have watched younger and younger children come into my office and talk to me about “worries” over tests, reading levels and how they will possibly “get to college”. Remember the days when you did not know what a SAT or ACT was until you were in the 11th grade? There was no test prep either, other than your parents telling you “you need a good night’s sleep and breakfast”, and then they handed you 2 number 2 pencils as you walked out the door!! Just last week an 8 year old patient of mine told me about his recent birthday party and playing video games. He followed up by saying, “school starts in 2 days and my Mom says I cannot play video games of watch TV during the school week this year”. I really didn’t think that was such a bad idea, but he then told me the reason was that he “had failed his ERB tests!!!”. He then went on to explain, in great detail I might add, that these had just been “practice ERB’s” and that his reading comprehension was “below grade level”. He said “next year in 2nd grade these tests count so he was worried about doing well then.” School had not even started yet!
I also received an email this week from a patient who said her son had just started back to school 2 days previously and he was having anxiety and not wanting to go to school. He is in middle school at a rigorous private school and had already been diagnosed with ADHD when he was younger, and is on medication. She and her husband were now having “issues” about how to deal with his anxiety, which was causing the entire family stress. They really “did not want to change his school”. Not a good way to start off the school year.
Much of the anxiety I see may also be related to just being “over scheduled”. Children of all ages need some “down-time” to just “chill”, relax, kick back and even get a bit bored. With schools piling on more and more academics at younger and younger ages, and then throw in competitive sports for 3-4 year olds….what are we thinking? Of course children will get burned out and stressed…they are just developmentally too young for some of this. Not all children are ready to read when 4-5 years old, or ready for athletic practices 2-3x/week. Some children as young as 8 have athletic events starting at 8 pm, when they should be in bed.
Sadly, I know that I will begin to see my fair share of headaches, tummy aches, and “I just don’t feel well” in the coming weeks. It may be time to re-evaluate where our society is heading.