The Situationist

Childhood: The New Age of Anxiety?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 29, 2008

Gina Stepp of Vision has an interesting piece on recent findings that suggest children in the U.S. and other countries are increasingly struggling with anxiety and unhappiness. Below we excerpt a portion of her piece.

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In the year 2000—even before terrorism hit so close to home for Americans on September 11, 2001, and before the United States went to war with Iraq—an interesting study appeared in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In her report, social psychologist Jean Twenge observed that anxiety levels in American children had increased dramatically since the first effective scale for measuring childhood anxiety was published in 1956.

The increases were so large and linear, Twenge explained, that by the 1980s normal children scored higher on the anxiety scale than did children in the 1950s who were psychiatric patients. The culprits? According to Twenge, disconnected relationships and looming environmental threats were the underlying factors. In particular she notes that “changes in the divorce rate, the birth rate, and the crime rate are all highly correlated with children’s anxiety.” In contrast, she discovered that “surprisingly, economic indices had very little independent effect on anxiety. Apparently, children are less concerned with whether their family has enough money than whether it is threatened by violence or dissolution.”

If modern young Americans are indeed feeling the strain, they are certainly not alone in the world. According to a March 2008 article in the online Independent, Britain may actually be the “unhappiest place on earth” for children. Education editor Richard Garner notes the “welter of evidence highlighting the fragile states of mind of many of the country’s seven million primary and secondary school pupils,” while reporting that British teachers had called for an independent Royal Commission to discover the reasons behind the widespread anxiety and unhappiness among the nation’s children.

* * *

In May of 2005, two education researchers from Pennsylvania State University—David P. Baker and Gerald K. LeTendre—coauthored a book titled National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling. Analyzing data collected from schools across more than 41 nations, the researchers came to a conclusion that might surprise many parents and educators: more homework does not necessarily translate to higher academic achievement.

Japan, the Czech Republic and Denmark were noted to have the highest academically scoring students while typically giving little or no homework. On the other hand, Baker noted that countries with very low scores in academic achievement: Thailand, Greece and Iran, typically were being assigned heavy homework loads.

“The United States is among the most homework-intensive countries in the world for seventh- and eighth-grade math classes,” commented LeTendre. “U.S. math teachers on average assigned more than two hours of mathematics homework per week in 1994-95. Contrary to our expectations, one of the lowest levels was recorded in Japan—about one hour a week. These figures challenge previous stereotypes about the lackadaisical American teenager and his diligent peer in Japan.”

LeTendre and Baker point out that it is these stereotypes, hyped by American media, that are actually responsible for prompting many U.S. schools to increase homework assignments during the 1980s. “At the same time,” say the researchers, “ironically, Japanese educators were attempting to reduce the amount of homework given to their students and allow them more leisure from the rigors of schooling. Neither the American nor the Japanese educational reform of the 1980s seems to have affected general achievement levels in either country.”

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For the rest of the piece, click here. For other Situationist posts on childhood, click here.

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10 Responses to “Childhood: The New Age of Anxiety?”

  1. Winston said

    This article comes as no surprise to home/un-schoolers. There are more of them every year. Since mass compulsory schooling became an institution in 1900, each generation has gotten worse and worse. In 1980s a documentary featured older prison inmates remarking on how much more psychotic and violent the new inmates seemed to be. The per capita crime rate may not be higher, but the criminals are more violent. Read Ivan Illich, John Caldwell Holt… then read about every trend that has been happening since the Industrial Revolution. It doesn’t take a college professor to see what’s happening. People keep trying to figure children out, to figure teens out… why are they the way they are. It doesn’t occur to them to ask; what effect could it have on a human being to make them spend their entire natural childhoods being told what to think and when to think it (in age segregated rooms forced to be with people you didn’t choose…)? What experiment could be more radical!?

  2. I have been reading Gina’a work for some time now and I am always pleased when I see it show up on other like minded sites.

  3. Gina Stepp said

    A kind comment Ms. Falkow, but I also appreciate having had my attention brought to this blog, which I very much look forward to exploring. Jon Hanson and Michael McCann have assembled a most interesting article library. I have added it to my daily reading list.

  4. Vivian said

    Being a victim, I understand the feeling of insecurity that I experienced in children. It was always filled with fear especially when my mom and dad quarelled and there is no peace at home. Naturally, when I grew up, I was filled with loneliness and depression, though things have turned to normal. So it all depends on how happy your childhood days were.

  5. […] Childhood: The New Age of Anxiety?……..Gina Stepp of Vision has an interesting piece on recent findings that suggest children in the U.S. and other countries are increasingly struggling with anxiety and unhappiness.     [excerpt a portion of her piece.]  In her report, social psychologist Jean Twenge observed that anxiety levels in American children had increased dramatically since the first effective scale for measuring childhood anxiety was published in 1956…… […]

  6. tammy said

    children should have more time of playing with each other, because that would be more important for his ability of leadership and team-spirit, it’s sad to hear children have to do more and more homework, that’s unhealthy for them

  7. hitfive said

    children should have more time of playing with each other, because that would be more important for his ability of leadership and team-spirit, it’s sad to hear children have to do more and more homework, that’s unhealthy for them

  8. It doesn’t take a college professor to see what’s happening. People keep trying to figure children out, to figure teens out… why are they the way they are. It doesn’t occur to them to ask; what effect could it have on a human being to make them spend their entire natural childhoods being told what to think and when to think it (in age segregated rooms forced to be with people you didn’t choose…)? What experiment could be more radical!?

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