Kids' worries not what some parents may think

Parents may assume that preteens are preoccupied with things like their looks, schoolwork, and fitting into the social scene, but a new KidsHealth KidsPoll reveals that these aren't the only things on their minds.

The poll asked 1,154 kids ages 9 to 13 how much they worry (all the time, a lot, a little, or never) about a variety of concerns that are common among kids their age. The majority (86%) said they worry "almost all the time" or "a lot" about the health of someone they love. Many kids said they worry "almost all the time" or "a lot" about other things, too - including schoolwork, tests, or grades (77%), their future (76%), and looks or appearance (63%).

The KidsHealth KidsPoll "What Kids Worry About" piloted 20 items from a list of common worries and stressors for children in this age group. The final KidsPoll included the eight items that ranked highest on the pilot.

Reason for Worry or Stress

% of kids who worry
"almost all the time"

% of kids who worry 
"a lot"
Health of someone you love 55% 31%
Your future 43% 33%
Schoolwork, tests, or grades 37% 40%
Your looks or appearance 37% 26%
Making mistakes and messing up 26% 35%
Your friends and their problems 24% 33%
War or terrorism 25% 25%
The environment 10% 21%

"Worry about the health of a loved one - whether it's a parent, grandparent, sibling, or a pet - is a concern kids often experience," explains D'Arcy Lyness, PhD, child and adolescent psychologist and medical editor for "Health is on kids' minds during the preteen years, when many schools address the dangers of smoking, drinking alcohol, unhealthy eating, and not wearingseat belts. It's natural that as kids begin to learn about these behaviors that they may also begin to worry that these things will affect the people they love and rely on to keep them safe. At this age, kids become more aware of health problems that parents or grandparents may have. And some kids experience the illness or death of a loved one."

KidsPoll found that even though many kids worry about the health of a loved one, many do not talk about it. Of kids surveyed, only 23% said they talk to a parent when they worry. Twenty-five percent (25%) reported that they "talk to a friend" and 20% said they "try to fix it or make it better" on their own when they're worried., the most-visited website for children's health information, offers parents the following tips on how to help kids manage their worries about the health of loved ones:

  • Take the lead. Just because kids don't ask doesn't mean that they're not aware or concerned. Remember to ask questions and listen.
  • Tune into school. Know what your child is learning and hearing about in health class and talk about it together.
  • Watch what you say. Be mindful of your words when you talk about your own health.
  • Don't overreact. When teaching safety and healthy behaviors, avoid using worst-case scenarios or exaggerating the risks just to make your point.
  • Provide information. If someone is ill, keep a calm perspective and give accurate information at a level your child can understand. Sometimes what kids imagine is worse than is the reality. Explaining a situation can help to dispel misconceptions.
  • Reassure. Remind kids that their feelings and concerns are natural.
  • Be a good listener. Provide an open, empathetic, and nonjudgmental atmosphere.
  • Be a role model. Take good care of yourself. Leading a healthy lifestyle minimizes potential sources of concern for kids and sets a good example for healthy living.

"Parents can provide perspective as well as support," reminds Dr. Lyness. "It's easy for kids to misinterpret what they hear, so sometimes parents need to correct misconceptions. Let your kids know if what they worry about isn't likely to happen, and be understanding. After all, isn't the health of a loved one a worry we all can relate to?"

The KidsHealth KidsPoll "What Kids Worry About" surveyed 1,154 children ages 9 to 13 across the United States at 9 member sites of the National Association of Health Education Centers (NAHEC). Researchers from the Department of Health Education and Recreation, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, conducted the survey. Survey questions were drafted with the expertise of the KidsPoll Scientific Advisory Board.

For complete survey findings, visit:


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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