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Feeling as though they are always rushing, always late, always on the run

Taking on too much, keeping too many irons in the fire

Feeling overaroused

Becoming short tempered

Feeling constantly anxious

Being overreactive and tense

Worrying a great deal about a lot of little things

Focusing on negatives, especially negative self-judgments and negative judgments of others close to them

Thinking a lot about failure, possible disaster, lack of success

Constantly feeling inadequate

Looking at these symptoms, as well as those listed earlier as symptoms of chronic stress, I came to realize that they applied all too well to what Carla James and so many others faced in their families. ... In each case, parents and children had felt this panoply of symptoms for long periods of time, but without quite being able to figure out what was going on.

Our Survey

As I tried to understand the connection between chronic stress research and the families I was seeing, I asked the Gurian Institute research team to help me reach out to parents and find out what they thought.

In 2005, the Gurian Institute staff decided to measure the level of parental stress in families. We conducted an e-mail survey in which we asked 1,859 parents and caregivers to rank

How supported they felt as parents in this culture

How protected their children were in their social circles

What they most feared as parents and caregivers

The results were powerful. Two-thirds of the survey participants considered themselves "unsupported as parents in the United States," felt "inadequate," and felt "constantly worried that their children would be harmed." Worry for children's safety is natural to any generation of parents, but the greatest fear among parents in our survey came not from physical violence or even from terrorism or sexual predators. More than two-thirds of participants believed that their children were in more danger from "subtle harms" than they were from "overt harms." As one respondent put it, "Our society has taken care of a lot of the obĀ¬vious harms to children--like lack of food or shelter--but now the subtle harms are far worse." Subtle harms for surveyed parents included media stereotypes (thin girls, buff boys) as well as media exploitation of violence and inappropriate sexuality, loss of family bonding in everyday life, and high social pressure on kids. A number of participants reĀ¬ported variations on this theme: "There are inordinately high social and family expectations on my kids to perform in ways that just don't fit who my kids are. This is really stressing them out."

Also interesting in the survey was this finding: three-quarters of the respondents felt that their children were in more danger than they themselves had been as children. Many of these respondents were brought up during the Cold War--a time when Americans thought they could lose their lives in a nuclear catastrophe at any time--yet they felt that their children's exposure to subtle harms in contemporary society was worse.

Previous Work on Chronic Stress in Families

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