Child and Family Stress: anxiety, depression: counseling, Phoenix therapist, Scottsdale

Coping with stress in healthy ways is an increasingly critical life skill, and according to a 2012 Placer County teen survey, 88 percent of ninth and eleventh graders said they felt stressed, and 54 percent said they were always stressed.

Healthy lifestyles and managing stress is vital in curbing substance abuse according to experts on substance abuse.


Some stress is an inevitable part of life, and learning to deal with adolescent stress and to avoid preventable stress is good preparation for adulthood. Responding both positively and negatively to stress is learned through experience. When stress is overwhelming the child or teen, it can lead to physiological changes, compromise the brain development and immune system, and lead to health problems later in life including substance abuse, such as alcoholism.

Parents can model healthy ways to manage stress at home and this will teach children and teens ways to manage stress and regulate mood.

Caring for children is more powerful than once believed. Parenting can help not only shape your child’s life it can shape your child’s genetics. Early experiences as children make our genes work differently.

Genes are very important because they create cells. The relationship that goes from cells to each gene in your body is very detailed. Genes in a cell can be expressed in different ways. Genes can be turned on or the gene can be turned off. If a gene is turned on it makes the cells behave in a totally different way than if the gene is in off modality.

One of the most vital discoveries today in the field of biological sciences states that the process of transforming genes into cells can be greatly impacted and influenced by environmental conditions.

Studies were done in a ground breaking journal called Nature that studied how animals react to stress. The study showed that genes can be methylated or de-methylated.  This means that a certain molecule can attack itself to the gene or it can not attach itself to a certain gene. The methylation or de-methylation impacts the way a gene influences cells in your child’s body.

Studies show that early care giving influenced how the stress regulating gene was methylated. The animals that received less licking and less nuzzling from there mothers had more methylated genes. The animals with the more methylated genes were more likely to react badly to stress later on. These animals in turn were less likely to care for their own young, passing on the effect to the next generation.

The above study showed this connection between nurture and cells and genetics for rats however the question was is this identical to children’s brains which is obviously different and much more complex. A recent study done in the Journal of Child Development shows the  same results for children and there family nurturing system.

Teens from vulnerable backgrounds were looked at and comparison was done on genes of children and teens who had been abused or neglected compared to those that and not been abused or neglected.

The same pattern of methylated genes occurred in humans as had happened in the rat study. Maltreated youth had more methylation than children that had been cared for. We have lots of research that showed abused and neglected children are more sensitive to stress as adults and hence are more likely to develop problems like anxiety and depression. Many did not suspect it traveled all the way to their genes.

These studies show that their is a multigenerational circle that is created at a biological level through nature and this biology is created under stress and in situations such as: abuse, isolation, maltreatment, socioeconomic stress, etc. This creates children and generations that are  more vulnerable to stress.

It is simple really. Whatever is happening in the world, stressed out parents raise stressed out kids.

And the role of the parent in promoting healthy stress management is more critical for the modern child exposed to cyber-powered pressures of peers and popular culture 24 hours a day.

The modern child may be exposed to a lot more stress than previous generations. “Many studies have linked excessive use of Internet with depression, poor academic performance and impulsive behavior to use Internet,” she said.

Jani explains that excessive internet use among youth can impede development of several small regions in the brain which could potentially lead to negative effects like diminished inhibition on inappropriate behavior and reduced goal printed behavior.

She is also concerned that unhealthy stress responses, such as gambling or substance abuse can also result in internet-electronic or gaming addiction.

“Children who use Internet excessively might be exposed to developing a type of addiction that was not experienced in the pre-digital era.” she said.

Jani observes that American children are already under enormous pressure to perform and most of them tend to not have much of personal time. “In on-line gaming, a child could be whoever he chooses to be; a hero, a king who builds empire, even a murderer,” she said. “It is the perfect space to be submerged in fantasy. This type of escapism is very attractive to our youth who are struggling with the harsh realities of life.”

Experts in Childhood Stress with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, explains there are three types of stress: positive, tolerable and toxic. Toxic stress is chronic and can lead to health issues. According to the report updated in May 2011: Toxic stress results from adverse experiences that may be sustained over a long period of time. This kind of stress can disrupt early brain development, compromise the functioning of important biological systems, and lead to long-term physical health problems. Along those lines, consider texting and social media as an example of chronic teen stress that can be like peer pressure on steroids and inspire high anxiety.

Articles are not to be taken as a substitute for professional advice or counseling.