It seems that everywhere you turn there is an article discussing the additional demands and challenges upon children. There are media commentaries focused upon parent pressure, societal pressure, as well as academic and athletic pressures. It appears that the media often glamorize the struggles of today’s youth, and the impression is that the difficulties today are significantly more stressful than those of years past. IT’S JUST NOT TRUE!
In a recent study conducted by Thomas Ackenbach and reported in the Journal of Emotional Behavioral Disorders, a large national sample revealed no changes between 1989 and 1999 for youth’s ages 11 – 18 years old. This is a decade reflecting many major changes in patterns of behavior for teens.
Yet, the overall pattern of reported stress has not shifted. As has frequently been demonstrated, adolescents tend to perceive more problems and struggles than parents or teachers perceive. This finding did not change.
Yet, there was no increase in reported problems as experienced by youth…despite ten years of escalating access to video games, enhanced TV and videos, computers, and cell phones. In addition, many articles have speculated about the impact of several youth related tragedies (i.e. Columbine shooting, school violence, etc), but no data support that youth have been adversely affected.HOW DO WE EXPLAIN THIS?
In many ways…it’s quite simple, I think.
Bottom line: Every day stress hasn’t really changed. While there are clearly changes, many of the day-to-day issues remain relatively unchanged.
For most kids, their every day thoughts and concerns remain focused on every day activities. The unmotivated are still doing battles with their parents about homework. The successful, driven kids get their work done without much parental encouragement. These differences have always existed.
For most, they would rather chose what is easier and more immediately gratifying…rather than doing the kinds of things that would serve them in the long run. This has always been that way.
For kids who like sports, some of them get into it too much…and some don’t care all that much. This is the way it has always been.
There are clearly more kids who are becoming couch potatoes, and this has influenced the obesity rates for our youth. Yet, being a couch potato is not all that stressful. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that rewarding either. It’s just that being parked in front of the TV for four hours a day doesn’t promote high degrees of anxiety.
As kids get older, most are trying hard to fit in. This is of utmost importance. It’s always been this way. Of course now, there maybe a few more options for fitting in. There are more degrees of acceptability. Rather than two brands of blue jeans, there are forty seven brands of blue jeans, and each of them has a certain status ranking. Yet, for the average kid, they’d still rather have the clothes that are “cool”…. rather than the clothes that are out. It’s always been this way…. and it’ll probably always be that way.
Will they get to go to the football game is still more important than the news about a school shooting miles away. Its just reality. Most kids are consumed with their day-to-day worries and struggles, and the many changes around them do not seem to affect their fundamental concerns.
I hope that I am not sounding like a pessimist, because that’s not my intention. Instead, I just want to stay grounded in reality.
Every day worries and behaviors remain the focus of most kids.
It’s always helpful to make certain we don’t weave stories based upon our perceptions of how children are affected by changes. Parents tend to project their adult perspectives into the many adjustments that children encounter. Thus, we often over-estimate the impact of change upon kids. Yet, it appears that children remain remarkably resilient, and flexible in their ability to respond to changing cultural and societal expectations.
This is all good news. I encourage you to relax more, enjoy your kids more, and avoid contemplating fears about how tough we have made things for our youth.
Reality Check: Kids have more. Kids experience more. Kids have more entertainment. Kids travel more. And yet…they are not more joyful, or more appreciative. Their struggles remain focused primarily on everyday issues…and this is where most of our energies need to remain.
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park-based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. His Web site, www.TerrificParenting.com
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