Body-image issues and the temptations of drugs or gang involvement are often thought of as the primary perils of growing up in the 21st century, but it’s the constant pressure on kids for success that worries many parents the most.
Stress among children beat out weight, drug use and gang involvement for the top concern among parents for the second year in a row, according to the Bay Area Parent Poll released today by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health.
Almost 40 percent of the 1,800 parents surveyed by phone picked stress as their primary concern, more than the 26 percent who said weight and 24 percent who chose depression.
"We were trying to assess what the most prominent topics in the minds of parents are in this area, and we were stunned to see that it was stress — not obesity, notgangs," said Stanford University lecturer and author Denise Pope, founder of the Stressed-Out Students Project.
That stress, according to Dr. Anand Chabra, director of Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health for the San Mateo County Health Department, is the result of the "Silicon Valley ethic," that pushes students to take harder classes, participate in more after-school activities and strive for success at every step.
"There’s this strong imperative to work harder, and make more money because the cost of living is higher, but we need to have a conversation about what impact that is having on these kids," he said.
Chabra said that prolonged stress — even over a matter of months — can reduce a child’s ability to deal with health issues and create further stress.
Packard Foundation spokesman Andy Krackov said he hopes the survey will prompt parents and schools to look harder at the emotional and mental health of students and work to find ways to help them relax and recuperate from the daily grind.
For San Mateo parent Jane Mason, who has one child at Abbott Middle School and one at Hillsdale High School, the most obvious sign of stress for her children is the lack of sleep that often accompanies full schedules of school, sports and family time.
"Sleep is a huge thing, for children and adults. Our society just does not get enough," Mason said.
Mason said she and her husband make it a point to have dinner with their children, hold family meetings to discuss stress and work with their children to manage their time to avoid over-scheduling.
The survey was conducted between July and August of 2006 by the Survey and Policy Research Institute and San Jose State University. For the full report, visit www.kidsdata.org/parentpoll.