“I want to be at the top of the pile, and if I’m not there, I feel like I gotta do a lot of things to get there.”
– Michael, 14
There’s growing evidence that kids today are more worried about their future than previous generations. And that anxiety is occurring in younger and younger children. How can this type of anxiety impact your child?
Whether they’re involved in sports, clubs or academics, kids today are quickly learning that competition is a part of life.
“I think there is more competition these days to go to the best college, to make the best SAT scores, and it’s like everybody is trying to be the best,” 14-year-old Connie says.
Even at the tender ages of 12, 13 and 14, adolescents begin to worry about the future – “Where will I go to college?” “What kind of career will I choose?” “How much money will I make?” It’s a new kind of teenage angst.
Thirteen-year-old Trey feels the pressure every day.
“I set my standards very high and when I don’t achieve my goal, I feel very bad,” he says.
Michael, 14, pushes himself, too.
“You want to be better than everybody else. I know I do. I want to be at the top of the pile and if I’m not there, I feel like I gotta do a lot of things to get there.”
The National Association of School Psychologists estimates that career-related anxieties among teens have increased about 20% in the past decade. Experts say striving for success is great, but they also warn that if it becomes an obsession, it can be unhealthy for kids.
“They become anxious [and] jittery. They become worriers,” says Dr. John Lochridge, a psychiatrist. “They turn to drugs or alcohol as external ways to calm themselves down.“
Experts say that parents need to help kids put success into perspective and teach them how to pace themselves.
“[It’s important to] emphasize the moment as opposed to where we are going to be in five years, where we’re going to be in 10 years or what are we achieving,” says Dr. Alexandra Phipps, a psychologist.
But more than anything, parents need to help their children recognize the importance of “just being a kid.”
Says Connie: “Sometimes, I feel like I have so much stress on me. And I feel like at this age, I should be enjoying myself, but sometimes I don’t feel like I’m enjoying life as I should be.”
Tips for Parents
The recent barrage of layoffs and economic turmoil of the past year is not only taking it’s toll on the working class but it is also affecting children – even those in middle school – as they begin to worry about their financial future. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, career-related anxiety among children has increased approximately 15-20% in the past decade. Even affluent, academic achievers are finding themselves buckling under enormous amounts of pressure as they witness the world of work become a place of fierce competition.
This trend of children’s early anxiety over financial well-being is further evidenced by a 2007 Charles Schwab “Teens & Money” survey. The survey of 1,000 U.S. teens in aged 13-18 revealed the following statistics:
- Despite their optimistic longer-term earnings expectations, 62% say they’re concerned about being able to support themselves after high school.
- 49% say they’re concerned their parents/guardians will not be able to support them financially if they attend college.
- One in four (25%) say they sometimes feel guilty for being a financial burden to their parents (among teens 16-18, 31% say this).
- More than half (56%) are concerned about their parents’/guardians’ financial well-being.
Is it harmful for children and adolescents to be worried about competition and financial success at such an early age? Competition is generally good for children, according to the National Network for Child Care. Whether children are competing for a spot on the volleyball team or a chance to win an academic scholarship, the experience helps them gain insights about their physical and intellectual skills and limitations. Competitions also enable children to learn teamwork, identify personal goals, develop criteria for success and motivate them to increase their efforts to attain the goals they desire. But if your child begins to develop a “winning-is-everything” attitude, parental intervention may be necessary.
If your adolescent seems preoccupied by future financial insecurity, you can take several steps to ease their angst. The experts at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism suggest you start by using these tips to guide your child when dealing with the issue of careers:
- Encourage your child to explore his or her options. Be supportive by asking your child, “Can I help you get connected?” or “Can I help you with researching a career?”
- You need to remember this is not your career decision. Have trust in your child and be supportive, yet informative.
- The world of work has changed since many parents made their first career choice. So some parents need to realize some of their information might be outdated.
- Direct your child to resources where he or she can research his or her desired career.
If your child comes to you with career and financial concerns, the best action you can take is to listen, according to the National PTA. Engaging in open communication with your child and sharing your own experiences and frustrations will help to ease your child’s anxiety. If your adolescent appears highly stressed about the future, you need to take the necessary steps to reduce that amount of stress before it can damage your child’s physical health. The American Academy of Family Physicians cites these signs and symptoms that indicate your child may be experiencing too much stress and anxiety:
- Feeling depressed, edgy, guilty or tired
- Having headaches, stomachaches or trouble sleeping
- Laughing or crying for no reason
- Blaming other people for bad things that happen
- Only seeing the down side of a situation
- Resenting other people or personal responsibilities
The National PTA says that you can help your adolescent learn to keep his or her anxiety at a minimal level by teaching him or her the following skills:
- Limit or expand the number of your activities and responsibilities based on your capabilities. Preteens and teens should have challenges without becoming overwhelmed.
- Avoid unnecessary worry. Thinking about a problem in order to arrive at a solution can be positive, but constant and unconstructive worry doesn’t accomplish anything. It usually just makes situations more stressful.
- Become better organized. Plan activities and goals a step at a time so that parts are accomplished. This gives you more self-esteem and more reasonable deadlines.
- Practice ways to reduce stress, such as aerobic exercise, proper nutrition, yoga, meditation, deep breathing, relaxation exercises, sleep, massage, taking a whirlpool or sauna bath and by having FUN.
- American Academy of Family Physicians
- National Association of School Psychologists
- National Network for Child Care
- National PTA
- Northwestern University