Why today’s children are plagued by stress

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020 00:00 |
Stressed child. Photo/Courtesy

What’s happening to our kids? Is a lingering question on many people’s minds. Why are so many anxious, withdrawn and on medications? Are they becoming more vulnerable or are parents ignoring their needs? 

Grace Wachira @yaa_grace  

Jane Maitu’s once calm six- year-old son started getting irritable upon the smallest provocation. He would scream, throw things around and kick in a fit, for no apparent reason.

“My son, also suddenly started getting in trouble in school, fighting with other children and his teachers started complaining,” Jane says, recalling that her son was no longer the calm and collected child she knew.

It seemed like everything was stressing him out. Disturbed about her child’s sudden irritability, she sought the help of guiding and counselling experts at her local church who helped unravel what her child was suffering from.

It turned out that her son was suffering from effects of her recent separation from her abusive ex-husband.

“My former partner used to beat me up in front of my son. Part of the reasons he beat me up was my son who I had come into the marriage with, among other insecurities he had about me.

 It dawned on me that he might have picked up the violent tendencies from his father.

He was anxious about the whole separation issue; a feeling he could not put in words,” Jane recounts.

More stressed than ever

Like adults, children also struggle with stress. Too many commitments, conflict in their families and problems with peers are all stressors that overwhelm children.

What many parents would call a meltdown, or an outburst, tantrum or freaking out, psychologists call it stress.

A recent study by Children’s National and the George Washington University School of Medicine showed that children are five to eight times more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression than children who lived one and a half decades ago.

Dr Philomena Ndambuki, a child psychologist. Photo/COURTESY

In the last six years, there was tremendous spike in anxiety disorders, depression and chemical use in young people.

While this study was done in a first world country, reasons given for the spike of stress levels in children can well be applied in this country.

According to the study, stress in children is commonly caused by significant life changes such as starting a new grade,  family turmoil, classroom bullying as well as increased use of social media.

Lydia Mueni, a counselling psychologist agrees. She says there have been many changes that have happened over the years that are directly affecting children.

“Today, more children are exposed to the Internet, which predisposes them to anxiety because of worries about being inadequately connected, and depression, and suicide as the result of cyberbullying and related behaviour,” she explains.

Other stress factors, she says include the recent change of the school curriculum, increased family feuds as backed by research in recent times, as well as absence of parents from home.

“Children and their parents are sleeping less than they did 15 to 20 years ago.

Parents are working for longer hours, therefore, not available for their children, children are bringing home too much school work and so on,” she explains.

She says signs of stress in children often show up as behavioural or physical changes.

They respond differently to stress depending on how old they are, their personality and their skills coping with different situations. 

Dr Philomena Ndambuki, a child psychologist notes that children have needs that should be met when growing up.

“We have stages in a child’s growth and development. They involve infancy, early childhood, middle and late childhood and lastly, adolescence.

All these stages need parents to facilitate growth, and when they do not, the child becomes frustrated,” she said.

She says the reason children are stressed today is because those bringing up the children are not conversant with child development and growth.

“It is not a secret that parents today are not home. They are always working.

Children are left with the house helps who are there to manage the house, not the children and those children grow up unhappy even with all the provisions in check,” she said.

Be present

She calls on parents to understand the need to be present for their children if they want them to turn out well.

“I cannot emphasise enough the duties to provide physical, intellectual, social, emotional and moral needs for children.

Depending on the age of a child, parents should ensure that their child is well catered for.

They are the moral authority and they teach them right from wrong after a teacher does their bit. It is a collaborative effort that should not be taken lightly,” she said.

Recently at a Facebook event organised by Kenya’s Facebook team, they released research that showed that many children as young as six have access to smartphones or tablets.

The social networking site has designed features to remind young people to beware of who they’re sharing information with, to only accept friend requests from people they know, and to know how to protect themselves online.

“Parents also have a critical role to play in educating teenagers about online safety  included in our settings about security and online safety precautions,” Mercy Ndegwa, Facebook head of public policy, East Africa region noted.

Dr Ndambuki tells parents to teach their children how to sail through life without inflicting frustration on them, “They are children and should be treated as so. They are not yet adults,” she says in conclusion.

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