How do you prepare a child for life in an uncertain world? At a time when anxiety is pervasive and a global pandemic has upended our lives, how can parents raise their children to handle the stress, and even anguish, they’re sure to experience? Even before the coronavirus took hold, data suggested that the kids were not alright: From 2007 to 2017, suicides among 10-to-24-year-olds rose 56 percent, and suicides by children ages 5 to 11 have almost doubled in recent years. Why is this happening, and what can be done for children overwhelmed by life?
For The Atlantic’s May cover story, “The Anxious Child, and the Crisis of Modern Parenting,” senior editor Kate Julian reports on the rising presence of anxiety and depression in children, and how modern parenting both plays a role in the problem and may be the key to a solution. Interviewing dozens of therapists, researchers, and mental-health experts, Julian heard the same thing again and again: Anxiety disorders in kids are well worth preventing, but anxiety itself is not something to be warded off. It’s an uncomfortable but universal response to stress that children must learn to tolerate in order to become healthy adults. And yet, Julian writes, parents today are doing the opposite: “Far too often, we insulate our children from distress and discomfort entirely. And children who don’t learn to cope with distress face a rough path to adulthood.”