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Too much to do Campaign targets rising child stress levels

Too much on their shoulders - Swiss children

(Pro Juventute)

Stress is not just an adult problem – increasing numbers of children are also feeling pressured, leading to health problems like insomnia and anxiety, says youth support organisation Pro Juventute.

It is calling for children to get more free time to spend as they please, as part of its campaign “Less pressure, more child”external link launched on Friday. The target group: parents and caregivers, but also schools and companies offering vocational training.

Pro Juventute says the percentage of calls to its Advice and Helpline 147 for “serious personal problems” rose to 29.5% of all calls for the first half of this year. In 2012 this was 17.5%.

That is not all: a World Health Organization study of schoolchildrenexternal link in Switzerland in 2014 found that 27% of 11 year olds suffered from sleep-related problems – in 2002 this was 19%.

Young people did not fare any better – around half of those polled aged 15-21 said they often or very often felt stressed or overwhelmed in a study published by Juvenir in 2015external link.

“If the pressure is felt long-term, symptoms like head and stomach ache or listlessness and insomnia can become chronic and lead to depressive moods and suicidal thoughts,” a Pro Juventute statementexternal link said.

Overplanning

One of the main factors behind this stress is parents’ concern over the professional future of their offspring, Pro Juventute believes. “Many parents already want to prepare their children early on for the demands of the modern competitive society and keep as many options open for them as possible,” said Pro Juventute director Katja Wiesendanger.

Parents mean well but often overplan their children’s free time, believing that their hobbies must have a purpose. Free play is increasingly becoming considered as a waste of time, but this is a mistake, the organisation said. Studies show that children’s development is encouraged through play.

The campaign aims to change attitudes and calls on caregivers to think twice about their expectations and own behaviour. From spring 2018 the campaign will include tips for young people as well.

“Children have an inborn need to learn and we have to preserve this because they gain valuable skills of their own volition through play, like how to be with other children and deal with conflict,” Wiesendanger said.

Campaign phases

The first phase of the campaign “Less pressure, more child” was launched on October 13, 2017.

A second phase will see a study on the subject, and a third will present concrete measures on reducing childhood stress.

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