May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and amid growing concerns about it youth mental health, a new study examines what worries American children. It finds that 86% of school-aged children report worrying at least some of the time.
The Nemours KidsHealth study found that more than 1 in 3 children aged 9 to 13 worry at least once a week. The most common concerns are about school (about 64%), friendships (41%) or family members (33%).
Other common concerns include concerns about how they look (31%) or being bullied (25%), and about 1 in 5 worried about safety (22%) or violence in the world (19%).
“More important than the content of the concerns is the frequency and extent of the concerns,” Dr. Lawrence Moss, president and CEO of Nemours Children’s Health, told CBS News.
Other recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a decline in many aspects of children’s mental health — a trend that began before the COVID-19 pandemic, but deteriorated amidst those disruptions.
This includes kids like Maeve Bradley, a 12-year-old who was forced to stay home during the pandemic like many kids across the country. For a while she took a break from team sports. Since returning to class, she says her head is full of worries.
“We were doing a lot of things on our computer. And now it’s like we’re back with different kinds of tests and stuff,” the 6th grader shared in an interview with her mom, Maura.
The survey found that more than half of the kids surveyed (53%) think adults don’t understand their concerns — something Maeve’s mom didn’t want her daughter to think.
“I just wanted to make sure she knew she could come and talk, and no matter what, we’d be there for her,” said Maura Bradley.
What can parents do to help worried children?
Moss says caring for some children can lead to depression and mental health problems that extend into adulthood.
“Of serious mental illness in the adult population, 75% started before the age of 14. So if we don’t solve this problem, we literally risk losing an entire generation of Americans,” he says.
Moss recommends that parents be proactive by simply asking kids what’s on their mind.
Maeve, who is feeling better and back exercising, says she wanted to share her story so others knew they weren’t alone.
“I know some kids are really struggling, and I want them to know there are people out there going through the same thing,” she said.