Jennifer Wright, Clinical Psychologist

 Depositphotos kids

I am often asked why young adults these days seem to suffer from so much anxiety. Seemingly happy, well-adjusted young men and women present to my clinic puzzled by the fact that they experience regular to intermittent symptoms of panic and anxiety. 

I usually say that I am not sure why there seems to be so such a glut of debilitating symptoms of anxiety amongst young people, except that perhaps we are better able to diagnose it. 

However, another reason could be that we have over-protected our children to the point where they did not learn to titrate their symptoms of fear when they were younger.

An article entitled Running Wild, by Melanie Thernstrom, in the December 3/4 edition of The Weekend Australian Magazine says:

“All mammals engage in dangerous play,” Gray told me. “Dangerous play is how kids learn how to titrate fear. Not everyone has to learn quadratic equations” — which, he points out, most people forget the minute they leave school anyway — “but at some point in our lives, we will all be in stressful situations and we need to be able to keep our cool. Sometimes there are accidents,” he added, “kid goats fall off cliffs while playing, or whatever, but they’re rare. If the instinct wasn’t of evolutionary benefit, the behaviour would have been rooted out.”

The implication is that children need to be exposed to dangerous situations so they can practice the skills they need to survive – without helicopter parents helping them.

This is a big call. As the author says: “Mother goats don’t die of heartbreak the way we do.” But I also understand that learning how to manage anxiety is an important part of childhood – and in some ways you just can’t do it when an adult is watching.

When I was in primary school my friends and I would walk above the (seemingly) raging Avon River on a very narrow ledge under a railway bridge. Had our parents known they would have definitely had a panic attack – and I almost have a panic attack now, thinking about what we did. But I also remember the intense concentration required, along with the wonderful feeling of success upon reaching the other side unscathed. None of us ever fell, thank goodness. But we certainly learnt to develop nerves of steel.