'Kids these days!'
There has a been an increase in the incidence of stress and anxiety in children and teenagers over the last few years. This article looks at some of the possible reasons and how different childhood is nowadays.
‘…we had to just get on with it.’
‘…..we were seen and not heard!’
‘….we didn’t have all these convenience products or devices.’
‘….we were outside from dawn until dark.’
Do any of these phrases sound familiar? Maybe you’ve used them yourself, or heard them from other generations. We often see our own generation as the one who struggled more than those ‘these days.’ Then go on to recall the many examples, as the younger ones in your presence roll their eyes (which we would never have done, of course).
So, who struggled the most? The chances are, many of us have – in our own time. It’s easy to compare our lives with others, but it’s important to put it all in context. The children of today live in an era of different pressures, choices (good and bad) and exposure that other generations may not have experienced in the same way. Therefore, comparisons like: the older you are, the more difficult your childhood was (or conversely) - cannot be directly correlated, especially when it comes to impact on the individual.
Picture this: Young, care-free children, running around. Maybe there are those who are giggling and laughing so much, that tears of joy are streaming down their cheeks. Others jump, hide, draw, look at books, play with bought toys or created toys, experiencing the true innocence and freedom of childhood. Each child with their own personality and different background. Some more reserved, others more exuberant and all degrees between. Then give those children weights to carry – each one a responsibility, and expectation, a role, a pressure. How much each child can carry will vary and depend of different factors. Some children will slow down, be too tired to run around and be as free as before – other children might complain, but are still able to have time to enjoy their lives. As the years progress, the size and quantity of weights increase. The environment changes and the freedom they used to have has been dramatically restricted. Those children who were starting to slow down before may not even play anymore, as they can’t carry their burdens alone. Some may try to push through, but end up hurting and suffering in ways that may or may not be seen. Still, there are some children who, with support and resilience, push through. The years pass – what happens to these children as they become young adults?
Here, at Inner Power Hypnotherapy, there has been an increasing number of young clients and enquiries from concerned parents/carers, due to the internal and external pressures that young people are experiencing. The main issues that are being seen relate to anxiety/fears, stress, lack of confidence and low self-esteem. There are often physical symptoms too, such as digestive issues and headaches. Behavioural or social reactions can sometimes appear as self-isolation, disordered eating and angry outbursts, as a way to cope or push down the underlying issue(s) and emotions.
Initially, it can be difficult to determine whether a young person’s behaviour is the usual teenage angst that many of us have come to expect, or if it is the start of some deeper problems. Most parents and carers will get to the point of recognising the difference, as their child begins to show signs of suffering beyond the ‘norm’. More than average weight loss/gain, emotionally-based school avoidance, stressed to the point of not being able to maintain a healthy routine or behaviours, to name a few examples.
The Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns inevitably has exacerbated emotional and mental health issues in young people. Even as adults, many of us found the new way of living, very challenging. So, for children, who haven’t had the same opportunities and time to attain and develop coping strategies, it has been even more challenging. They have experienced disruption to a crucial part of their social interactional development; losing out on everyday peer group support and relationship consolidation; they have lacked the real-life experience of learning with a teacher who could recognise the signs of when their pupils are struggling or need further encouragement or challenges. There have been reports of delayed speech and language development across all range ages* which continues to have a knock-on effect now.
Instead of healthy social interaction, these children had weeks, months without face-to-face contact with friends, teachers, doctors, family. Their world shrank physically and socially, in a way never experienced by recent generations, leaving them with overwhelming negative thoughts, unachievable expectations, more fear, isolation and the inability to cope. All this, with no outlet other than a daily walk outside where there lingered a potential threat to their or their loved ones’ health – keeping them in a state of high alert.
Therefore, many young people (and adults alike), turned to social media and other online platforms to remain part of a world, or to escape, to belong, or to simply distract themselves from the threat outside their door. There are many positives to the internet and what it can offer, but we all know about the negatives. What could start with a fun choreographed dance on one platform could end up with thoughts like ‘Why can’t I look like that?’ ‘Why is everyone else so happy – what’s wrong with me?’ Messages, even between friends, could easily be misunderstood. During these lockdowns, conflict resolution was particularly difficult, particularly when there was a reliance on the other person being online or wanting to communicate (as opposed to seeing them every day at school etc). Cyberbullying has, for some time, been a problem, but during lockdown when isolation was increased, it could have had even more of a devastating effect on anyone who is vulnerable or feeling vulnerable.
Added to this, the challenges experienced by the parents/carers and other people in the household: those with limited financial or educational resources, single parent families, children with additional needs, multi-generational families, those with chronic or acute health conditions, bereavement, parents going through divorce/separations, inability to see other loved ones – so many factors. Is it any wonder that there is an increase in mental health issues in young people; longer waiting lists for counsellors and therapists, more struggling parents and carers needing support.
If you recognise any of these difficulties within yourself as a young person, or with the children in your care, reach out. You do not have to carry the heavy burden alone - there is support to help you. As well as hypnotherapy, there are organisations and charities that may help or point you in the right direction for further support.
(Updated May 2023)
*Centre for Evidence and Implementation, the University of East London, Frontier Economics, Coram Family and Childcare and the Institute for Fiscal Studies. ‘Implications of COVID for Early Childhood Education and Care in England.’ (2020)