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Anxiety Can Happen At Any Age

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

It has been a busy few days in my office lately.  I have been answering voice mails, emails, “tweets” and it is interesting to me that most of my messages are related to children with anxiety.

Why are we raising such an anxious group of children? Is it that the “gene pool” has changed or is it just societal? I really think that it is due to our society as a whole, we are on the fast track to creating the next generation of “stressed out” adults, even more so than ever, if that is even possible!!

I will just walk you through my voice mails, as it really is interesting that my phone messages are from parents with children of all ages. There is the preschooler who won’t get dressed in the morning for school due to a constant tummy ache. There is an elementary school child who is having problems sleeping every night, and a tween who is getting tics when she gets anxious at school. I also take care of a large number of college students and I have two patients who left college after their first semester as they were anxious and depressed while being away from home and did not go to class and therefore did not make their grades. In each case the parent is calling to ask what to do? I only wish I had all of the answers!!

I will get on that proverbial “soap box” and go out on a limb and say that after practicing pediatrics for 25 years the problems that are related to behaviors in our children are much bigger issues than anything else.

We have made great strides in disease prevention, but we are definitely not preventing emotional issues in our children. Being a parent and a child seems to get only more difficult each year. Was that the way it always was? Did our own parents think we were anxious and “stressed out”? I don’t even think that was a word in the 60’s, 70’s or even 80’s. Just the same way that everyone now says, “I am busy running errands”, (I know I never heard my mother use that term), our kids talk about “stress” from very young ages.

Do we as parents put that pressure on them from an early age? I know that my new parents feel “stressed” that their baby does not sleep through the night by two to three weeks, and say “what are we doing wrong?” Answer, nothing, infants are not supposed to sleep through the night at that early age. Don’t set the bar so high so early! I have parents of toddlers who worry that their child cannot jump as high as their friend’s toddler (I don’t even know how high that might be, are their standards for the playground?). I must say it just goes on from there.

I know we parents are supposed to worry, but I think that constant worry is creeping right into the skin of very young children and it is “causing” anxious children. Yes, some children are just born that way, but most are not.

I am not saying that a little bit of worry cannot be beneficial at times. It is okay to “worry” about doing well in school, or making new friends, or misbehaving and getting punished or eventually how to get into college and “what will I do with the rest of my life”. But balancing a little worry with constant anxiety is become more difficult.

Most of my referrals are no longer to the orthopedic surgeons for broken bones, but rather to psychologists and psychiatrists to help children and adolescents deal with anxiety. There are even recent articles regarding the fact that there are not enough pediatric psychiatrists to care for the burgeoning needs in the pediatric population.

I wish I knew the answers, but I really do think that we can change things, be it ever so slowly. Getting back to the basics of “down” time with family and friends, rather than lessons, tutors, and Kumon math for 3 year olds! How about less time on computers and phones and more time spent face to face talking. How about listening to our children rather than having them watching DVD’s on the way to school or while out at dinner with the family. So many little things that we can all change may make a difference. We have to start trying something different, as what I am seeing now is not “the happy go lucky” children of years gone by.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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