Pediatric Stress

We don’t typically associate childhood with stress. Children don’t have bills to pay, demanding jobs or kids of their own to worry over, so why would children possibly be stressed? This may be how we think, but the sad fact is that children today are being diagnosed with high-anxiety, depression and a myriad of other psychological disorders resulting in more children being on psychosomatic drugs now than ever.


There was a time when playground bullying was probably the worst source of stress that we could imagine for our children. Someone at school was making their little lives miserable and it was usually a child who was bigger, meaner, tougher, etc. Today we have a whole new arena for bullying. With social media sites so popular, they have opened a door for children to be bullied 24/7, instead of just the seven or eight hours a day that they’re at school. Recent studies show that the percentage of children being cyberbullied has more than doubled from 18% to 37% between 2007 and 2019.

Additional studies have reported that bullying is affecting almost a quarter of all school-age children and that 5.4 million students will skip school at some point in the year because of this. Most children reported a fear of speaking to an adult about the bullying out of fear of repercussions or the abuse escalating, so the cycle of stress is never broken.


Unfortunately, another cause of stress for children comes from a surprising source: the parent. We all want what’s best for our kids, like a bright and successful future, but sometimes in our zeal we forget to allow time for them to be children.

If we over-schedule them with organized sports, dance classes, music lessons and self-improvement programs we don’t leave them time to be children. We convince ourselves that it’s best to keep kids busy, but we forget that boredom is a catalyst for creativity.

Many children who have been over-scheduled grow to resent the attention placed on their lives and begin to wonder what’s wrong with them. They question why they need so much improvement and refinement, then retreat into a shell of insecurity, finding escape in video games and internet surfing. We lose the child in the pursuit of perfection.

Critical Self-Image

More typical of girls, the time between elementary school and junior high finds young women becoming more critical of their looks. Studies have found that almost half of all teenage girls believe that they are overweight and 80% of 10-year-old girls have dieted at least once. Is it any wonder then that young girls are suffering from eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa? Additional studies have shown that most anorexia patients developed this disorder in their teens.

Children with strong social-emotional skills are better able to cope with everyday social challenges.

Fractured Families

Another source of stress is the fractured family. Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, the divorce rate is high and when children are involved the collateral damage is greater. Recent studies have concluded that children of divorced parents are statistically more likely to have their own marriages end in divorce.

While every effort is made to help children not place the blame on themselves for the divorce and to teach children healthy ways to resolve issues, the anger between the parents will still sometimes be transferred to the children, increasing their anxiety.

The Serious Outcome

Children today are responding to emotional stressors in ways that we can’t imagine and generally don’t understand. Recent studies have shown that between 1/3 and 1/2 of all teenagers are self-injuring and, of this number, cutting and burning are the most common type of nonsuicidal self-injury. Despite the appearance, self-injury is not a precursor to suicide. According to research published in 2019, 55% of those that will actually discuss it, and many won’t, said “I wanted to get my mind off my problems” and 45% said, “It helped me to release tension or stress and relax.”

While self-injury is typically considered non-suicidal injury, suicide rates rose 130% for U.S. children ages 10-15 between 2007 and 2015 and for youths ages 15-19, it rose 46% in that same time period.

This has increased exponentially in 2020, as isolation increases feelings of stress among adolescents. In May of 2020, doctors at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, California said that they have seen more deaths by suicide during this quarantine period than deaths from the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Mike deBoisblanc stated, “We’ve never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time. I mean, we’ve seen a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks.”

What is being done?

Many parents have turned to the medical profession for help with their children, which typically includes drugtherapy. The problem with the typical modern medicine routine is that most anti-depressants are being prescribed off-label to children. Since they haven’t been tested on children, doctors are making a best-guess as to the correct dosage.

Studies published in 2004 found that there is an increased risk in suicide for children ages 10-18 who are taking serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). As a result, the FDA published a Public Health Advisory expressing concerns over certain antidepressants being given to children and teens. However, several studies have basically refuted those concerns including one by the American Academy of Pediatrics that claimed there “appears to be no clinically meaningful variation in the risk for suicidal acts by antidepressant agent within the class of SSRIs”. During the first 12 months of treatment 266 subjects attempted suicide and three were successful. This was an event rate of 27.04 suicidal acts/1000 person-years. Yet, they find this to not be “clinically meaningful”?

How to Avoid Chemicals

A dangerous contributing factor is general practitioners and increasingly pediatricians writing the majority of antidepressants prescriptions, not the psychiatrist. If concerned parents would take their child to a psychiatrist first, where psychotherapy would be the first defense, antidepressants would be a last resort.

Peter Breggin, M.D. a psychiatrist, medical expert, and author, has been a watchdog of the underreporting of side effects from antidepressant and psycho-stimulant use. He believes that “those struggling with severe depression essentially are feeling profound hopelessness and despair that can be addressed by a variety of psychotherapeutic, educational and spiritual or religious interventions.” It’s time to consider other options besides the promised (typically unsuccessful) quick fix offered by chemicals.

Better Care

One of the first steps that is now being made available is Social-Emotional Learning. This process helps children develop the self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills that are vital to interacting with the world. Children with strong social-emotional skills are better able to cope with everyday social challenges.

Your Doctor of Chiropractic would encourage you to remember the benefits of living a wellness lifestyle. Encourage your children to get plenty of sleep, as a lack of rest can negatively affect a child’s mood. Nutrition also plays a huge role in how we function mentally. Additionally, progressive parents are recognizing the benefits of yoga for their children as it requires specific meditation techniques that quiet the mind and create a calming influence. This typically helps children become more focused, resulting in a reduction of stress.

Finally, a recent study shared the case history of a 19- year-old female diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). After a four-month course of chiropractic care, the young woman reported an 80% reduction in her anxiety symptoms, including a 90% decrease in her headaches. The patient was able to resume a normal lifestyle without resorting to prescription or other drugs.

Be sure to speak with your Family Wellness Chiropractor today about recommendations on how to help improve your child’s overall health and wellness to avoid feelings of stress.


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Dr. Kim Harper

Dr. Harper's pre-med study was completed at the University of Iowa followed by her doctorate from Palmer College of Chiropractic. Upon graduation in 1993, Dr. Harper began practice in the Indianapolis area and has continued to work with families on the north side ever since.