Anxiety increasing among Arizona children in the digital era
Aug 9, 2023, 4:35 AM | Updated: 6:18 am
PHOENIX — In a time when technology allows people to connect with others more than ever before, an increasing number of children are feeling alone.
Roughly 36% of high school students in Arizona reported their mental health “was most of the time or always not good,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent “High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey,” which was conducted back in 2021. That’s about 7% more than the national average.
It’s something that Dr. Carla C. Allan, the division chief of psychology and the Hagenah Family Endowed Chair in Psychology with Phoenix Children’s said she sees in her office every day.
“We’re continuing to see increases in the frequency and intensity of anxiety that youth are experiencing,” Allan said.
What’s causing anxiety in today’s youth?
Allan told KTAR News 92.3 FM that this is due to a myriad of factors.
“Kids are feeling a great deal of uncertainty about their futures, not only in part due to all of the things they see on social media that are not real representations of life and comparing themselves to people who look perfect, and of course you feel anxious when you don’t live up to those standards that aren’t real to begin with,” Allan said.
Technology also allows kids to be well-informed, which can bring stress all by itself.
“News and climate change has sort of lent itself very well to this feeling of existential dread that adolescents are certainly verbalizing in my office each day,” Allan said.
Allan explained while online platforms allow kids to connect with others with similar beliefs, that can sometimes backfire.
“Youth are also experiencing sort of echo chambers on social media and those kinds of websites where when you’re hanging around other kids who are highly anxious, it just serves to heighten your own anxiety,” she said.
“When we get stuck in this sort of a doom loop of things related to body image, and eating disorders are increasing during this time too, and doom messages around climate, it does really create this culture of dread.”
Look for signs of anxiety
Allan said parents should watch out for signs that their children are struggling.
“You will get kids expressing worry directly. They want to know what’s coming up next. They want to talk about future things, maybe even months ahead. You’ll know they have a hard time handling flexibly changes that occur with regards to uncertainty…” she said.
Anxiety can impact sleep, so many kids may become fatigued over time, and many children may seek assurance more often.
Allan said parents can help by being role models on how to react to anxiety by providing examples of how their children can cope and helping them get involved in real experiences.
“When it comes to anxiety, there’s kind of nothing to it but to do it. We got to get out there and try things, push our comfort zone. Only through real experiences can we learn how to cope,” Allan said.
The following are examples of anxiety in children according to the CDC:
- Separation anxiety – Being afraid when away from parents.
- Phobias – Extreme fear about a specific thing or situation.
- Social anxiety – Being very afraid of school and places where there are people.
- General anxiety – Being worried about the future and about bad things happening.
- Panic Disorder – Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing or feeling dizzy, shaky or sweaty.