Adults aren’t the only ones stressed out anymore…turns out, so are children. New research suggests that children are experiencing stress at all new levels: suicides among adolescents have quadrupled in the past 60 years, and only 36 percent of 7th graders agreed with the statement “I am happy with my life.”
If that weren’t bad enough, pharmaceuticals to treat emotional disorders has shot up 68 percent for girls, 30 percent for boys in the past decade alone.
How stress works in a child’s brain:
“The hypothalamus (above the brain stem) releases a hormone that rushes to the neighboring pituitary gland. The pituitary gland then mobilizes the production of a second hormone that swims via the bloodstream to adrenal glands above the kidneys. The adrenal glands activate adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline accelerates the child’s heart rate and elevates the blood pressure. Cortisol pumps up the blood sugar level, elevating the child’s muscle and memory power and boosting the pain threshold.”
According to Greatschools.org, research shows that cortisol, specifically, chews up the brain if it loiters there long-term. When lab rats were given daily injections of rat cortisol for several weeks, it killed brain cells in their hippocampus region, leaving them depressed, anxious, fearful, immature, needy, and unable to learn new behaviors.
And that’s not all. Numerous studies have shown that stress can lead to difficulties learning new material and converting it to memory. Children exposed to extremely stressful situations have also been shown to have significantly lower IQs.
Author John Medina and other experts agree that the best cure for stress is exercise. “Exercise is one of the best things children can do to combat stress,” he says. “It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress.”
Medina also advises to make the home as stress-free and loving as possible: “The emotional stability of the home is the single greatest predictor of academic success. If you want your kid to get into Harvard, go home and love your spouse.”