Resist the Latest Parenting Fads, Says New Book

These survey results inspired our Gurian Institute team to look deeply at what these parents might be hinting at--especially the sense of stress and anxiety linked to social expectations and pressures. We reviewed other literature and surveys on parental stress. Although our survey was perhaps one of the first of its kind to try to determine an exact link between chronic stress and family life, there have been other surveys that measure general parental anxiety and child health. These others supported our survey results.

The Michigan Healthy Start survey of 2003, for instance, found that 66 percent of parents measured at "significant stress" on their Parental Stress Index. According to the Michigan researchers, this result showed a significant generational increase when they compared the baby boom¬ers to their children. The Carnegie-Mellon corporation conducted a long-term study in the 1990s on child and family health, and discovered significant parental and family stress. They called this "a quiet crisis in child rearing."

These surveys followed the calls and hints of other researchers to look closely at family stressors. David Elkind, professor of psychology at Tufts University and the author of The Hurried Child, first wrote about stressed children in his clinical observations in the 1980s. In the 1990s, a number of fields began to report on children's deteriorating mental health due to such severe family stressors as abuse, neglect, and dangerous media stimulation. Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley re¬viewed the literature in Ghosts from the Nursery, showing the roots of violence in chronic stressors in early childhood. Jane Healy also re¬viewed the literature in Failure to Connect, showing correlation between excessive media exposure and children's stress.

In the late 1990s, the field of physical therapy began to discuss the possibility of a condition therapist T. W. Myers called "kinesthetic dystonia," a neurophysical state in which the child's body is constantly under neural stress because it is living out of sync with its own natural needs. The exponential increase in child obesity in the last decade falls into this category.

In the last few years, our nation's colleges have also been noticing a situation that supports the chronic stress theory. In November 2004, college health service workers from a wide variety of schools noted the severity and incidence of student mental health referrals in university health services. Steven Hyman, provost of Harvard University and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, recently pointed out that students' mental states are now so precarious that they "interfere with the core mission of the university."

According to Hara Estroff Marano in Psychology Today, by 1996, "anxiety overtook relationship concerns and has remained the major student problem" in student health services. Eating disorders of some kind or severity now afflict 40 percent of women at some time in their college career. Psychologist Paul E. Joffe, head of the suicide prevention team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, tracks the in¬crease of dangerous drinking among young people. He finds among our late adolescents "an inverted world in which drinking to oblivion is the way to feel connected and alive."

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