The Anxious Parent

A psychologist explains why today's parents have less to worry about than they think.

Introduction

Parents who worry about their kids are normal. And with terrorism and war in the news, there is more to worry about. But in his book, Worried All the Time: Overparenting in an Age of Anxiety and How to Stop It, child and family therapist David Anderegg, Ph.D., makes the case that today's parents are taking worrying to an unhealthy extreme. While it makes sense to be anxious about global events, many parents needlessly agonize over even routine childrearing issues, says Dr. Anderegg, a professor of psychology at Bennington College in Vermont. "Worrying about terrorism is understandable," he says "but parents worry too much about the everyday aspects of parenting."

In his book, he says that today's kids are actually much safer than those of previous generations and that many of the so-called "new crises" facing children have been greatly overblown. Often, he says, fears are based on misconceptions and misinformation. So why do we sweat the little stuff so much? And how can we break the cycle of fear? Here, Dr. Anderegg offers his theories and advice.

Q: Why are you so sure that parents today are worrying about their kids more than parents in the past did?

A: There aren't specific statistics on this, because social scientists haven't thought to study this question. But Public Agenda, a nonprofit research group in New York City, recently conducted a poll of parents and found that 78% thought parenting is much harder than ever. Only 4% said it was easier. This shows that couples feel daunted by the task of parenting.

Have parents always felt this way? Well, we don't know, but as a psychologist who regularly lectures about development to parents, I hear many more questions about routine matters from parents, all asked with urgency. I'm not just asked, for example, whether toy guns are okay. I hear, "What do I do if my son points his index finger at me and says, 'Bang, bang'? And by the way, can I ask my best friend to put away the toy guns when my son visits?" This overthinking and overworrying, I believe, is new.

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