Happy Children

No Childhood For Modern Children

Pressure-Parenting And Childhood Anxiety

Childhood anxiety disorders are on the increase. This may, of course, simply be because we have got better at diagnosing such conditions – but there is a growing body of opinion which holds that the pressures of the modern world and the limiting of basic childhood freedoms to play uninhibited by time, location, or the drive to be perpetually ‘achieving something’ has a lot to do with this. How does such reasoning work, and, if it is indeed the case that we ourselves are making our children anxious, what can be done to halt the trend?

Transfer of Anxiety

It is of course possible that parental anxiety in a world increasingly perceived to be dangerous to children is being subliminally transferred to the child. “Anxiety disordered children show an attentional bias towards emotionally threatening stimuli” [1]. While parents have always been anxious about their children, they have arguably become far, far more overprotective in recent years. In many ways there is good reason for this – the overabundance of cars on the streets, for example, does render playing outside quite dangerous. Furthermore, modern parents regularly have their heads filled with horrifying tales of child-snatchers in a manner which simply did not occur for our ancestors. That this should transfer itself into near-constant parental supervision and hover-parent tactics is no real surprise. However, being frequently told (explicitly or subliminally) that the world is dangerous, and that the Big, Bad Outdoors is just waiting to slaughter unsupervised kids cannot help but bring ‘emotionally threatening stimuli’ to the forefront of a child’s mind. This may over time instil a distinctly anxious mindset which makes the development of anxiety disorders that much more likely. This is a difficult thing to combat, as the truth is that the world is in some ways more dangerous for modern children. While rumours of child-snatching gangs and so on may be greatly blown up by the media, the fact remains that, while our grandparents could enjoy a ‘Famous Five [2]’ style childhood, roaming the wilds and “experiencing the freedom from parental control of which all children dream” [3], modern children cannot go roaming around outside with quite the same freedom due to the fact that the number of cars on the roads has massively increased, rendering any sort of play in the streets utterly impossible.

OCD On The Rise

Cases of childhood Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are rising dramatically, and seem to be affecting younger and younger children every year. Although the causes of OCD are disputed, there is, as Psychguides point out, “some evidence that genetics may affect who develops the disorder” [4]. However, not every person with an obsessive-compulsive parent manifests symptoms of OCD. This may suggest that the condition lies dormant in a large proportion of the population. OCD is a cumulative condition which embeds itself quite quickly through forming repetitive neural thought-pathways, which may explain why those who have their condition ‘triggered’ go on to demonstrate debilitating symptoms while others in whom the condition may lie dormant never display any symptoms at all. Patients suffering from OCD frequently report a trigger-experience often connected to intense anxiety which began the initial intrusive thought cycle. Furthermore, OCD sufferers are painfully afflicted with ideas of “Exaggerated responsibility, exaggerated thought importance, exaggerated future impact, exaggerated danger limitation [and] exaggerated perfectionism” [5] – all attitudes more likely to occur in today’s increasingly anxious, pressured, individualistic and perfectionist world than they would have been several decades ago. In the past, things which we could not change were peaceably accepted as they were. Now, however, the tendency is to strive and strive for advancement, taking all failure and frustration intensely personally and railing against that which we do not actually have the power to change. This sense of pressured personal responsibility can be toxic to someone genetically susceptible to OCD. This may explain why children growing up in today’s environment may be a lot more likely to develop the condition than their less pressured forbears.

The Power of Play

One way in which we can perhaps relieve or at least provide an outlet for the pressure and anxiety heaped upon modern children is in making more of play. Not play which works towards any specific purpose, but simple, unadulterated play for the joy of it [6] and nothing else. Not only will play provide a boost to mood, it will also give children the time and space to work out the ways of the world on their own terms and thus give them the social and mental skills they need to safeguard against future anxieties. In short, it will render them much more robust – both physically and mentally. It has been noted that children growing up in environments which emphasize study, work, achievement etc and limit time to play freely are much more likely to suffer from anxiety related disorders. An Anglo-Chinese survey discovered that “Chinese schoolchildren suffer from extraordinarily high levels of anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic stress disorders which appear to be linked to academic pressure and lack of play” [7] . Allowing your children regular, unpressured playtime should not, therefore, be seen as a dangerous activity and a waste of time which could be used more productively – it should rather be viewed as an essential part of your child’s development, enabling them to gain a vital and happy mental state which will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. In order to reduce anxiety in children, let them be children – irrational, impractical, unpressured, and happy.


[1] Michael W Vassey, Eric L Daleiden, Larua L Williams, Lisa M Brown, “Biased Attention in childhood Anxiety Disorders: a preliminary study”, Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, April 1995
[2] Enid Blyton Society, “The Famous Five”
[3] Peter Cash, “Enid Blyton: The Famous Five Books”, The English Association, 2013
[4] “OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)”, Psychguides.com
[5] “What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)? What Causes Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviour?” Medicalnewstoday.com, February 2010
[6] Play England
[7] Peter Gray, “Give Childhood Back to Children”, The Independent, January 2014