Pressure Cooker Kids
Studies detail children’s worries, say Parents worry about kids stress
By San Francisco Chronicle
A complex portrait of American children is emerging with the release of four new studies, including one on Bay Area kids, showing their parents feel they're stressed and depressed about everything from homework to their weight.
There is some good news.
Young children still eat breakfast and dinner with a parent. As many as 80 percent of parents in one national survey monitor their kids' television viewing. And parents of teens aren't as worried about sex and drugs as you might think.
But maybe parents should be more worried: A majority of teen girls are active on social networking Web sites such as MySpace, and some are taking extreme measures to lose weight, influenced by magazine dieting advice, according to two of the studies.
About 67 percent of Bay Area parents of 14- to 18-year-olds worry their kids are too stressed, mostly about school but also about divorce, separation issues and family finances, according to a study of 1,800 parents commissioned by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health to be released today.
"We're very interested in promoting the health and well-being of children, so we need to document important issues affecting kids in our community," said the foundation's Andy Krackov. "We want parents and policymakers to be thinking about kids' emotional health."
Depression also ranked high on parental worry lists, especially among Latino parents. Thirty-one percent said they thought their child might be depressed, compared to 13 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
Marisol Munoz-Kehne, a clinical psychologist and host of "Nuestros Ninos," a Spanish-language radio show for Bay Area parents and caregivers, said this reflects her experience.
"We hear it every Sunday," Munoz-Kehne said. "We have a different topic each Sunday -- homework, asthma -- and regardless the issue, parents call in to talk about how hard it is to grow up these days. The stresses could be school, teen peer pressure, growing up as an immigrant family."
Munoz-Kehne said young children are increasingly stressed about things that used to be the province of adults, such as body image.
Denise Clark Pope, founder and director of the Stressed-Out Students
"If your household is working 24/7, your kids feel that their lives are mirrored to that," Pope said.
Geoffrey Simpson, 13, of
"People get shot most of the time," Simpson said. His 19-year-old cousin was one of the victims last year.
In keeping with the region's crime patterns, in which violence is largely
contained to a few neighborhoods, 9 in 10 Bay Area parents said they feel their
children are safe in and out of school. Researchers at
National studies released this month describe the heavy influence that media -- from magazines to Internet social networking sites -- have on children.
A study of 2,516 Minnesota middle and high school girls, conducted in 1999 and again in 2004, found that those who read diet articles were twice as likely -- compared to girls who never did -- to try to lose weight by fasting or smoking cigarettes five years later. And they were three times more likely to take extreme measures such as vomiting or taking laxatives.
Whether the girls were overweight didn't seem to matter, said co-author Patricia van den Berg, whose work was published in the journal Pediatrics this month.
"My biggest recommendation is media literacy for teens," she said. "Teach kids how to take a media message and look at it more critically. It can happen in schools and with parents talking to their kids."
Samantha Moe-Harrington, 13, of
"I don't compare myself to models in magazines," she said. "But I do look to girls in my class who are skinner than me."
With regard to social networking on the Internet, the Pew Internet & American Life Project announced Sunday that it had found that 70 percent of girls ages 15 to 17 had profiles on social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Xanga.
Pew's national telephone survey of 935 youths ages 12 to 17, done in October and November, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Mauricio Arredondo, another 13-year-old hanging outside the West Portal Starbucks, said he has three profiles on MySpace, which requires that users be at least 14. When asked who he chats with, the San Francisco eighth-grader suddenly got shy and pulled his sweatshirt hood over his head. Female schoolmates listening nearby giggled.
The Census Bureau's look at a child's typical day in 2003, released today, paints a picture of family togetherness, with nearly 60 percent of children under age 6 eating breakfast with a parent every day, most likely their mothers, and nearly 80 percent eating dinner with a parent. For ages 6 to 12, shared dinnertime dropped to 70 percent and for teens to 60 percent. The census report is based on a longitudinal survey of nearly 10,000 parents and their 18,413 children.
Roughly 40 percent or fewer of the children the Census Bureau surveyed in 2003 were involved in sports, clubs or lessons outside school hours.
-- 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds were academically on track, working at or above their grade level in 2003.
-- 67 percent of children ages 3 to 5 had limits on what television shows they could watch and for how long in 2003, up from 54 percent in 1994.
-- 72 percent of kids under age 6 were praised by the mother or father three or more times per day, compared with 51 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 37 percent of children ages 12 to 17.
-- 11 percent of children ages 12 to 17 had been expelled or suspended from school in 2003.
To view the reports
The survey of Bay Area parents, commissioned by the Lucile Packard
Foundation for Children's Health and conducted by the Survey Policy and
Research Institute at
The U.S. Census Bureau report on "A Child's Day," which is based on the Survey of Income and Program Participation, a longitudinal study the bureau conducts periodically at the national level, can be found at www.census.gov. The survey doesn't produce state- or local-level data.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project study on how the Internet affects teenagers' social dynamics can be downloaded at www.pewinternet.org.
To view the