ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As students head back to the classroom for the new school years, parents nationwide agree that bullying stands as their biggest worry for their children, a new study finds.
As part of an annual survey, researchers at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital collected data on the concerns of more than 2,000 adults as it pertained to their young ones, finding that bullying and cyberbulling occupied the minds of 61% of parents.
Not far behind on the list of “big problems” for children and teens was the fear of insufficient exercise (60%), unhealthy eating (57%), drug abuse (56%), and internet safety (55%). Child abuse, suicide, depression, teen pregnancy, and stress rounded out the top 10 worries.
“Adults across the country recognized bullying, including cyberbullying, as the leading health problem for U.S. children,” says Dr. Gary Freed, the study’s co-author, in a news release.
The survey asked parents which risks left them feeling “very concerned,” “somewhat concerned,” or “not concerned.” Among the most pressing areas that led the “very concerned” families: Bullying or cyberbullying (34%), internet safety (30%), stress (28%), motor vehicle accidents (28%), school violence (25%), depression (22%), unhealthy eating (22%), insufficient exercise (21%), drug abuse (20%), and sexting (20%) on the list of parental concerns.
Still, a given parent’s greatest concerns varied substantially, depending on their background and the ages of their children, even when fears were irrational.
African-American parents, for instance, were most troubled by racial inequities and school violence subjected toward their children.
“For parents of children ages 0-5,” Freed adds, “cancer was rated as a top health concern even though pediatric cancer is quite rare. Parents may have concerns about very serious conditions despite the small risk for them.
While teasing and taunting have occurred on playgrounds for time immemorial, concerns about the effects of technology on young kids’ psyches is a newer development.
Cyberbullying, in particular, has been linked to increased incidences of depression and anxiety, trouble sleeping, with some victims even resorting to suicide. Bullied children are also at a higher risk of suffering from chronic disease later in life.
Kids can also be targeted by older predators, which can carry the risk of physical danger. A study earlier this year found that many teens are afraid to tell their parents about online troubles.
“Parents should regularly discuss internet safety with their children and teens and ways to prevent problems,” Freed advises. “Simple effective strategies may include not providing personal identifying information on social media, chat platforms, or in shared gaming environments.”
Despite the increase in internet-related perils, some traditional traps, such as vehicle accidents — the leading cause of death among those aged two to 14 — still hold relevance in the minds of parents.
The Mott Poll surveyed a representative sample of American households in which children under the age of 18 resided.