Kids and the Myth of Stress

I don’t mean to be unsympathetic, but I get weary of hearing about the alleged stressful lives of American kids. I’m not denying that many children feel that way. I just think that their feelings are a reflection of a culture-caused disorder!  Their stress is more due to being raised in a spoiled, self-absorbed environment than it is related to any type of mental problem.

The data on stress and adults makes intuitive sense. Stress tends to decrease as you age, become more educated, or earn more money. Retired, well educated, and high income individuals have the lowest level of stress of any group in our society. Men report less stress than women.

The results of research on children and stress are perplexing. Columbia University researcher Suniya Luthar found that “…adolescents reared in suburban homes with an average family income of $120,000 report higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse than any other socioeconomic group of young Americans today” according to the APA Monitor.

Why is it that the most privileged kids in the world are reporting the greatest degree of unhappiness?  Rates of mental disorders for American kids are around 15-20%.  That means that about 1 in 5 children need professional psychological help every year. Something’s wrong.

I’ve never done any research on stress and children, but I have spent 33 years of my life talking with kids. Many have allowed me into their private worlds, sharing with me their fears and fantasies.  I’ve listened to their stories about their innumerable anxieties, concerns ranging from the shape of their nose to their arguments with friends. Some issues are gut wrenching, related to serious concerns about sexual abuse, family turmoil, or life-threatening diseases.

However, many of kids’ perceptions of stress are somewhat frivolous.  These kids don’t need therapy. They need an attitude adjustment and an introduction into the real world.

These kids need to learn that the world does not revolve around their whims and wishes. They need to learn that their feelings are less important than their behavior. They need to show appreciation to their parents and others for providing food, shelter and love. They need to reach out to others with compassion, rather than always expecting others to give them things. They need to listen to President Kennedy’s inaugural speech and ask what they can do for their family, rather than what their family can do for them.  They need to be less spoiled and self-centered

Want to decrease stress in your kids?  Raise them in a loving home where they work hard, get modest recognition for their accomplishments and learn to appreciate what they have, rather than lament what they don’t.

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