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Kids and Teens Also Worry About Politics

Recent surveys of American adults reveal they worry about political issues and are concerned for the future of the United States. Now, a new study discovers that children and teens are worried about political matters as well.

The study appears in the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development. It also found that the worries experienced by children and teenagers reflect many sides of a political issue, and the findings pertain to youth across the political spectrum.

But it’s unclear whether children’s and teens’ worry is a cause for concern, or that it is interfering with mental health.

Typically, worry about political issues has not been on psychologists’ radar when assessing mental health. That has changed since the 2016 presidential election in the United States.

More adults are reporting feelings of anxiety about political issues and, the tension has been building. Indeed, investigators note that even before the 2016 contest an American Psychological Association survey found political issues to be a “significant source of stress” for both Republicans and Democrats.

Until now, there has been little, if any, attention paid to youths’ worry about political issues. Realizing this, American University Assistant Professor of Psychology Nicole Caporino devised a psychological measure to gauge how frequently youth are worrying, if at all, and which political issues they are worrying about most.

A child clinical psychologist who specializes in child anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, Caporino leads the Clinic for Youth Anxiety and Related Disorders at AU. The clinic provides assessment and therapy for children and adolescents ages 4 through 17 years old.

Over time, Caporino has seen her young patients express worry about political issues, from the possibility of deportation (regardless of citizenship status), to Muslim peers being bullied or victimized, to the possibility of being “kidnapped” by a political party and separated from family.

“I was interested in finding out if worry about political issues extends to kids beyond those with anxiety disorders,” she said. “It turns out that it does. In our study, it was common for caregivers to report that their children have worried about political issues.

“However, it’s not clear from these data that the worry experienced by the average kid is harmful. It may not be a problem that kids are worrying. We know that anxiety and worry, to a certain degree, are helpful because they motivate us to take action to improve what is troubling us.”

The study surveyed caregivers of children and teenagers from across the United States. More than 370 caregivers of youth 6 to 17 years old participated. Caregivers identified as independents, Republicans or Democrats. Selecting from a number of worries related to 15 voting issues, caregivers rated the frequency of their child’s anxiety.

For the majority of voting issues, more than half of caregivers indicated that their child experienced at least one relevant worry. Worries about the environment and gun violence were most common, followed by worry related to the economy, treatment of racial/ethnic minorities, foreign policy and terrorism.

While the study found that both caregivers who self-identified as Republicans and Democrats reported worry, the caregivers of Republicans reported that their children experienced more frequent worry about political issues.

“Youth are worrying about a wide range of issues, and especially those that disproportionately affect their generation,” Caporino said. “Although this worry is not frequent, on average, it appears to be widespread, regardless of caregivers’ political party affiliation.”

About a quarter of the caregivers surveyed indicated that their child had clinical levels of anxiety. Based on Caporino’s analysis, these youth have significantly greater worry about political issues and may be at greater risk for harmful mental health effects from following the news.

This was not surprising, Caporino said. One of the hallmarks of generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is frequent worry about many issues or events. Nonetheless, it should signal to parents of children with anxiety disorders that worry about political issues could be an additional stressor.

Therapists will want to take this into consideration and assess for worry about political issues in clinical settings, so that they can help youth manage any worry that is excessive.

For children and youth, generally, Caporino recommends that caregivers talk to their children.

“Talk to your kids to make sure that the information they’re getting is accurate, and that they’re not worrying unnecessarily because they’re making assumptions about political issues they don’t understand very well due to their developmental level,” Caporino said.

Researchers believe future studies should survey diverse samples of youth directly about their anxiety about political issues. Studies should also identify strategies for mitigating the negative impact of political news on youth with anxiety disorders.

Source: American University

Kids and Teens Also Worry About Politics

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2020). Kids and Teens Also Worry About Politics. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/03/11/kids-and-teens-also-worry-about-politics/154864.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 11 Mar 2020 (Originally: 11 Mar 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 11 Mar 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.