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Don’t Worry, Kids!

April 27, 2010

The big news down here these days?  Someone did some research and it came to us in the form of the headline “What’s Bugging the Nation’s Children?”  The article explains that an academic surveyed 8-12 year olds to find out what worries them. 

The reason that these things get my attention (and scare the heck out of me) is because down here an article like this will probably generate a few government inquiries and the establishment of a few new government departments (duly overseen by the Children’s Commissioner) to eliminate these wrinkles in the fabric of what should be an idyllic time of life. 

You may find this hard to believe, but the researcher identified 29 “common” issues that caused stress for little kids.  That implies that there are a lot more that didn’t make the “common” cut.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of my childhood, and even my adulthood to be honest, I’m not sure I could ever find 29 things to stress about.

The article describes the way findings of similar studies over the years have yielded different results.  According to the article, in the 70s and 80s, kids were worried about ‘family issues’ and peer pressure.  But.  By the 1990s, bullying, being hurt, stranger danger, natural disasters and ‘being touched inappropriately’ had joined the list.

Where do kids learn this stuff? 

That was in the 90s, but life is even more worrisome here in century XXI.  Now, in addition to all those other things, children toss and turn all night worrying about global warming, terrorism, wars and the future. 

I’m surprised that whaling isn’t on the list.

To be honest, the article leads me to believe that kids today are, for lack of a better word, neurotic.  One is quoted as saying:  “I’m worried about the environment and the global warming, the ice and how it’s going.  I write it down in my little notebook. [Are you kidding me? –Ed.] I’m thinking people should actually stop the global warming before it’s too late for their children.”

The article got me to thinking, and I decided to do some field research of my own by asking my nephews about what was stressing them out.  They are 7 and 9, just like the kids in the research survey.

What you are about to read is true.

It is a tribute to my brother- and sister-in-law that the boys’ initial response to the question of “what stresses you out,” was “Nothing.” 

I tried to coax out some information, but they were fairly adamant that they didn’t have too much to worry about.  After all, they have a loving family and live in a relatively peaceful society.  Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky.

But I still thought that there must be something that bothers them.  I’m not saying that the researcher in the article did the same thing, but only when I started to ask specific questions did they admit to any worries.

Their biggest worry, it seems, is getting too much homework.  They hate homework. 

The thing that stresses them out the most is each other.  It is a challenge to have to share stuff and, more important, to show restraint in the face of teasing, tattling and other breaches of etiquette.  Thinking back to when my brother and I were 7 and 9, I accept that as a legitimate stressor. 

But after reading the article, such concerns seemed a little pedestrian.

I kept trying.  I asked “Are there any times you can’t sleep because something is bothering you?”

Long pause, then, “Yeah.”

Aha, I thought.  “And when is that?”

“When it’s too hot.”

“But what bothers you most?” 

“I guess unfairness on the playground.”

Aha, I thought.  “You mean bullying?”

“No when someone doesn’t play fair.  Like they hog the ball or cheat.”

Finally, I could take it no longer.  “But don’t you worry about things like global warming?”

“Oh yeah.  Global warming.  I don’t like it.”

“Why not?”

“Because the ice is going to melt and we are all going to drown.”


“I don’t know.”

“Do you worry a lot about global warming?”

“No.  Just when I hear something on the news or the teacher talks about it.”

 “Do you know if there is anything we can do to stop it?”

“No.  They just told us it was going to happen someday.”

It was clear that tomorrow’s homework volume was a more pressing concern than the polar ice caps.

The seven year old chimed in.  “I hope we get global freezing instead!”


“Because then we could walk out on the ocean and look through the ice and see Atlantis!”

That’s when I realized that we probably don’t need any government programs to allay the children’s fears.  You probably had some things that kept you awake when you were a little one.  I sure did.  But my parents were adept at mind reading and minimizing the problem. 

It reminded me that when I was the same age as my nephews, a teacher told us that the Russians had enough nukes to kill each of us 110 times.   And they really wanted to use them, too.  And if they didn’t do it, the Chinese had even itchier trigger fingers.

I went home that day and told my parents. 

They told me to go out and play.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2010 1:23 pm

    Hi Tom,
    I love your tongue-in-cheek humour in this post about a serious topic. You highlight how much things have changed from our generation to our grandchildren’s. Oe wonders if the media are stirring things up too much for the kids.

  2. Mary permalink
    April 27, 2010 2:47 pm

    Hi Tom,
    I was riveted to your intro – aha, an answer to why my grandchildren are so hyper – stressed. Your account of the interview with your nephews is funny, and brought me down to earth. No generation of children gets away without stress.

    My worry for kids today is that the concepts of adulthood are imposed on kids too early. They are expected to be able to manage long days of schooling, long school bus drives, short gobbles of food, long hockey practices, tired good nights and repeat the next day. All this with the escapism of having your ears plugged with iPod thingys and organized play dates on weekends and … don’t get me started. I feel sorry for them.


  3. April 27, 2010 4:22 pm

    If I may interject some seriousness here, teachers spend far too much time scaring kids about everything from global warming to the extinction of polar bears. Not that those two topics aren’t relevant (well, I am still not fully sold on global warming…the skeptic that I am), but unless in science class, teachers should shelter the innocence that is left of our children.

    Sometimes teachers overlay their own fears on their students.

    Most kids–even junior high and 9th graders–are really children in big bodies.

    That’s my two cents after 38 years in the business.

    Please! No more governmental programs with bureaucracy, layers upon layers.

    • April 27, 2010 4:30 pm

      Exactly my point–I can’t imagine that kids came up with 29 stress categories all by themselves!

  4. April 28, 2010 6:54 am

    hahahaha! excellent ending to your article. mmm, sometimes I think these government departments have little to spend money on so they create stuff. we have the same problems in the UK, beaureucracy gone mad.
    I am sure if had any worries my Mother would have sent me out to play too…..the best stree-reliever there is.
    Thanks for a great blog

  5. April 28, 2010 3:32 pm

    The boys aren’t at all worried about ED and losing their hair?

    • April 28, 2010 9:23 pm

      Learning that you have to worry about those things is a rite of passage–i.e., after you get an e-mail address and start getting spam!

  6. April 28, 2010 5:14 pm

    That also reminds me as a dad not to let my anxiety about all sorts of things be felt too much by my kids. They do soak this stuff up from us.

    The biggest stressors for kids are probably things they could never put into words, such as tension in the home between mommy and daddy.

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