Reports suggest that the number of children and teenagers being diagnosed with anxiety has increased in recent years, and the problem appears to be prevalent in many countries.
While everyone faces some form of anxiety from time to time, too much can lead to excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension and worry, which can negatively take a toll on a person’s life.
In the US, a study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that anxiety has been increasing among the American youth.
The analysis of nationwide data found that some 2.6 million American children and adolescents between the ages of six and 17 were diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression in 2011-12. Even more worrying is the fact that less than a quarter of American youths previously treated for anxiety disorders stay anxiety-free.
Meanwhile, in Ireland, The Irish Times reported that increasing anxiety among students in primary schools has emerged as one of the biggest problems facing school principals.
In Australia, the Students’ Well-Being report found that 15-year-old Australian students suffered above-average levels of school work-related anxiety while in Singapore, reports suggest that school-going youths are anxious due to academic pressures.
Apart from the spike of anxiety among youths stemming from school-related work, AAP News notes that other contributing factors may include a lack of social interaction due to digital media use (e.g. opting for texting or instant messaging instead of face-to-face interaction), cyberbullying and not being connected to one’s social network through digital devices.
Factors such as stressed parents can also contribute to the problem, as a study found they were more likely to use harsher parenting styles, while the worsened relationships between parents and children were linked to higher anxiety, conduct problems and lower child happiness.
Supporting anxious children and teens
When it comes to reducing test-taking anxiety among students, research has found that psychological interventions may work. ScienceNews reported that helping lower-income high school freshman in the US regulate their test-taking anxiety can cut their biology course failure rates in half.
Christopher Rozek, Stanford University psychologist and lead author of the study, investigated whether a 10-minute-long reading and writing prompt before an exam could improve test performance.
Students were placed in one of four groups; one was simply told to ignore anxiety, another was told to write about their fears (a method intended to clear up the headspace needed to focus on an exam), a third group read a statement explaining that the physiological responses to stress (e.g. racing pulse or sweaty palms) can actually be beneficial and help with attention, while students in the fourth group participated in both activities.
Researchers found that the three types of interventions worked equally well, but higher-income students experienced no benefit, with Rozek suspecting that these students were already more adept at emotional regulation.
Meanwhile, schools and teachers can also play a role by improving their culture to facilitate the problem of anxious students.
The New York Times reported that Lexington High School in the US was tackling the problem of student stress following a student’s suicide by making improvements to their culture.
“Elementary school students now learn breathing exercises and study how the brain works and how tension affects it. New rules in the high school limit homework.
“To decrease competition, there are no class rankings and no valedictorians and salutatorians. In town, there are regular workshops on teen anxiety and college forums designed to convince parents that their children can succeed without the Ivy Leagues,” said the report.
Meanwhile, instead of giving misbehaving students detention, the Robert W. Coleman Elementary school in the US has turned to mindfulness instead. Students are lead to a quiet room called the Mindful Moment Room, that smells of lemongrass, where they can breathe and meditate. The school principal said she has seen signs of success.