A few months ago, I was driving home from work when I saw a man doubling his school-age son on a pushbike, at dusk, with no headlights and no helmets. The boy was perched up front, legs swung over the handlebars. I arrived home and told my husband about the “f***ing idiot dad” I’d seen.
But I’ve since reflected on that day, because I can recall the look of sheer bliss on the young boy’s face. Maybe, just maybe, our kids need more risk-taking, not less?
On Saturday I opened The Sydney Morning Herald to be greeted by the headline: ‘Teenagers more anxious and depressed.’ According to the report, based on recent research, girls are particularly vulnerable, with increasing numbers seeking psychiatric help.
Tell me something I didn’t already know, I thought.
In my immediate social circle, anxiety, in particular, is rampant. Teenagers and 20-somethings too scared to fly, to drive, to go out at night. So fearful of success they avoid studying all together, or conversely, such perfectionists that any mark less than a 100% is seen as failure. Thousands of dollars paid out to psychologists and psychiatrists. They are part of a growing trend. In Australia, 15% of young people aged 16-24 years have an anxiety disorder, with anxiety now affecting a staggering 1 in 5 young women.
Being a parent can be terrifying. My seventeen-year-old will have his P-plates soon and we all know the stats on young men and cars. Increasingly, however, I’m coming to believe that the greatest threat to a child’s future health and happiness may be the demons residing inside his or her own head.
There are many theories why teens are becoming anxious and depressed, increased school stress and wider use of the internet among them. But what if some of the seeds of anxiety and depression are planted earlier, when our kids are young? And if so, is there anything we can do to about it?
There is growing body of research linking anxious, overprotective parenting to anxiety in kids, and — surprise, surprise — it’s mainly mums who cop the blame.
None of this is rocket science: if parents see the world as a threatening place their kids are going to pick up on that. We’re victims, as much as our children, of the distorting lens of the internet, but we need to remind ourselves that our kids have never been safer. Your child has about as much chance of being struck by lightning as being abducted by a stranger and killed, so next time you see another ‘horrible child death’ story you’d be wise to not even click on the link.