Children of all ages need some "down-time" to relax. Photo by Fotolia.com
By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
With school back in session, the words "stress" and "anxiety" are slowly creeping back into the day-to-day vocabulary 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 percent of children have negative behaviors linked to stress, and 62 percent 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 didn't know what an 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 two No. 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 two days, and my mom says I can't play video games or 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 ERBs" 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 in recent days from a patient who said her son had just started back to school two days prior, and he was having anxiety and not wanting to go to school. He is in middle school at a rigorous private school, 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 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 and 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 or 5 years old, or ready for athletic practices two to three times per week. Some children as young as 8 have athletic events starting at 8 p.m., when they should be in bed.
Sadly, I know that I'll begin to see my fair share of headaches, tummy aches and "I just don't feel well" complaints from patients in the coming weeks. It may be time to re-evaluate where our society is heading!
Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. "The Kid's Doctor" TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid's Doctor e-book, "Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today's Teen," is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.
This was printed in the November 1, 2015 - November 14, 2015 edition.