Why do my children have so much anxiety?

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I remember very little of the 1990s. Throughout most of the decade, I was giving birth and raising babies. So it was a bleary time, to say the least. I had my own anxiety about being a good parent and feared I would mess up my kids. As much as we could, my husband and I tried to make it a joyful and exciting time for our children. There was art and music in the home, and we were not afraid to try new things and go to new places.

Nevertheless, our children, now grown, often report feelings of anxiety, depression and other issues of mental health. And they are not alone. Many of the young people who grew up in the 1990s have these problems. Why?

The 90s were the best and the worst

Movies and music in the 90s were ideal. There was a renaissance of animated films like we had never seen. My children watched the genius of Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid. When they broke free of my oldies, they discovered Backstreet Boys, DC Talk, and the Spice Girls. TV was all comedy then, with Friends, Seinfeld, Wonder Years, The Simpsons and others.

But amid the laughter and the color, other events were stirring. The year my youngest daughter was born was the same year of the first bombing of the World Trade Center. The next year, Kurt Cobain’s suicide was a media headline along with the murder trial of OJ Simpson. As my daughter grew, she likely saw her father and me stone-faced or weeping in front of the TV as we learned about the following events:

  • The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 people, including 19 children in a daycare center.
  • In 1996, six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found murdered in her own home.
  • There were at least five high school shootings in 1997, including one teen who fired into a group of praying children.
  • In 1998, Jonesboro school shooters, ages 11 and 13, killed 4 classmates.
  • The 1999 Columbine shooting left 13 students murdered at the hands of two teens.

One report says that four times as many children died in school shootings during the 1990s than during the past decade. In fact, in the lifespan of my youngest child, an average of 10 students died each year in school shootings.

No wonder!

The world turned dark in the 1990s, and I didn’t really notice it until recently. I began to hear more and more young people, the same ages as my children, talk about their anxiety, their depression, migraines and other ailments. For some, the normal stress of a day or the hectic pace of a retail job is too much. They become overwhelmed and feel physically ill.

It can be frustrating for those in my generation who, as children, had less exposure to the cruel and bloody events of the day. With only three channels on the TV, we turned it on only when a show was playing that everyone in the family could watch. No internet, no smart phones and no social media meant that many events we should have been watching simply went by without our notice.

A different decade

My children and their peers grew up when all that tragedy was right in their faces. Despite my efforts to protect them, to homeschool them and to provide them with a solid faith to ground them, they are among those dealing with anxiety, depression and stress in their daily lives.

In the 1970s, when I was a child, the common thought was suck it up, get over it. I certainly agree that there are many who use anxiety and depression as catch-alls for situations that take them out of their comfort zones. But I can also understand that the events of childhood can and must damage someone’s ability to feel safe and at peace in the world.

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