Anxiety becoming more common in children
"In the generation that I've been in practice, I've just seen an explosion in anxiety disorders in kids, to the point now where I really think it's close to an epidemic," said Dr. Steven Tobias, director of the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown.
Anxiety often manifests itself as separation anxiety and school refusal or phobia, according to Tobias.
"We're putting kids under much more stress than ever before, especially in schools that have moved to accountability and testing," he said, adding that those tests are often viewed as representations of how children will live out the rest of their lives. He cited kindergarten as an example, saying "we're doing what traditionally had been a first-grade curriculum, so we're raising the bar on kids all the time. We're demanding more and more of them."
Even sports that were once fun and stress-reducing, Tobias said, are now necessitating personalized trainers for children, or requiring the kids' participation in specialized sports camps.
Technology also can play a role in children's anxiety.
"Kids need downtime, they need time to just reflect, they need time to self-calm," Tobias said. "Parents don't realize technology is a stimulant. It stimulates the nervous system. It doesn't help the kids self-calm and relax and learn how to deal with intense feelings on their own. All it does is sort of distract them from the intense feelings they're having."
If left unchecked, anxiety can manifest as an avoidance behavior or social isolation.
"Now, some kids also will act out, will become more aggressive, angry, and tantrum when they're anxious," Tobias said.
Learning how to cope with the worry kids are feeling, and confronting their fears, are ways of overcoming anxiety, according to Tobias.
"But for adolescents, they really need to do this with the support of schools, parents, and sometimes therapists," he said.