What’s bugging the nation’s children

Joanna Laxon says she is concerned about environmental problems.  Photo / Dean Purcell

Joanna Laxon (right) says she is concerned about environmental problems.

Today’s children are worried about more than just their homework and peer pressure – they are also worried about terrorism and climate change and whether there will be a future for their own children.

These are just some of the serious issues a group of more than 170 New Zealand children have cited as major stresses in their lives.

Auckland University Researcher Fiona Pienaar interviewed children aged 8-12 for her PhD to find out what stressed them out and how they coped.

The study, which only involved children with no obvious stress, identified 29 common issues that caused stress, the majority of which were clustered around school and family.

There were others based on interpersonal issues, such as not being able to trust friends, being left out of things, fear of punishment and being confused by what adults did or said.  The fourth category was intrapersonal problems, such as worries about the future and what’s happening in the world.

By comparing her results to studies from previous years she has found the source of a child’s stress has changed dramatically from years gone by.

In the 1970s and 1980s, problems identified by children included family issues, friends and peer pressure. By the 1990s bullying, being hurt, stranger danger, disasters and being touched inappropriately had joined the list.

Ms Pienaar said the inclusion of bigger global issues like terrorism and global warming in today’s tensions reflected a greater awareness by children of what was going on in the world.

Images of war and conflict around the world were particularly challenging for children, with one saying;

“Recently I’ve been worrying about some of the wars that are happening on the other side of the world, why are we just killing people, why can’t we just kind of stop it? I kind of just think, I hope it doesn’t get any worse.”

Global warming and how a natural disaster would affect their lives were two other issues for children.

“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 … I’m thinking people should actually stop the global warming before it’s too late for their children,” said one child.

Many children also worried about the future.

“The future, if we have children, would there be a future for them?” asked one child.

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