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Children and Anxiety

I want to write about something of great import to any of you who love a child. Let’s see if I can articulate this.

We have evermore-anxious children. Watch the tears of the elementary kids as they get older. See how the junior high kids worry. Watch the cares and concerns of the teenagers, the fears of the college students. Anxiety fills our air. Researchers are noticing the signs and effects of it in our young ones.

Why is this?

Here’s what I think: We were not built to bear the increase of knowledge.

I’m not just talking about the knowledge that we attain in school, although I think that is part of it. But because of electronic media, we know too much. We know what our friends are thinking and doing. We know about crimes in our neighborhoods of which we would otherwise be unaware. We know about the distresses and grudges carried by people twe know personally, as well as those who are reported in the news and by social media. We know about disasters all around the globe. We know of horrific acts perpetrated here and afar. Exponentially more we hear the criticisms of leaders in our communities, our churches, our country. Others have the tools to criticize us — even when we are yet children — to large audiences … and we can see what they are saying.

Has it ever occurred to us that perhaps we don’t need to KNOW all of these things? That this new level of stress in our society in the last 50–100 years is too much for us? That we were actually not designed to bear all this horror, sadness and discord?

No wonder we and our children are steeped in anxiety these days! No wonder.

I have often thought to myself that as knowledge has increased, we are forced to bear more of the things God’s heart must bear. That great sadness, that great anxiety, is not something I can survive. I don’t know how God can be anything other than deeply sad all the time. But then I am not God. And I know there must be little joys in the midst of it all. (I would love to be one of them. I am certain the little children in my family are some of God’s little joys.)

I don’t have the answer. But I rarely ever watch the news nowadays. I glance over the headlines and then keep on moving to what I can see and hear in front of me. That is enough. As I read online I try to skip most of the squabbles and much of the finger-pointing, and instead enjoy the affirmations and humor. When someone engages me in hard thinking about our world, I join them. But at some point I turn away from the discussion for a while; it is enough.

But what of our children? We adults need to give serious attention and thought to how their little hearts process all of this knowledge. This is the time of higher plasticity in their brains, the time when they are formed for life. These are the years in which their hearts, characters and emotional tools are formed. How can we help them to put boundaries on what they must bear? How can we help them recognize and reduce the exposures that bring them to anxiety? How can we right-size the world so they don’t build anxious habits of thought?

Parents and teachers, you are shaping the future. May you do everything in your power to make it a less anxious one. I don’t think we can bear much more. You are in my prayers.

Featured in: October 2018