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A Verywell Report: Parents Have Increasing Concerns About Kids’ Mental Health

illustration of parent concerned with kids' mental health

Alex Dos Diaz / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • A survey of parents highlights the stress of additional hardships around the mental health of our kids during the pandemic.
  • At a time when self-care is crucial, it's important to remember that young kids may need additional help to cope with their feelings.

It’s no surprise that mental health problems are on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. But what may be surprising to some people is that research shows older populations seem to be faring the best in terms of psychological health and younger people are experiencing the most emotional distress.

We decided to dig a little deeper to learn about the types of mental health concerns parents have about their kids.

I also wanted to know how kids are doing in terms of the 13 Things Strong Kids Do—the subject of my most recent book. I wanted to better understand how kids might be struggling with their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors during the pandemic.

Parents Are Stressed and So Are Kids

From school closures to job losses, most families have experienced serious disruptions to their lives this year. Many families have experienced ongoing changes as they adjusted to remote learning off and on, and ongoing uncertainty as activities were postponed indefinitely.

Parents are definitely feeling the psychological strain from a year-long pandemic. Most parents (59%) say they are at least moderately stressed, and 44% say their kids feel that way too.

When asked about their difficulties, 72% of parents say they have experienced some kind of hardship related to the pandemic within the last month.

COVID seems to be taking a toll across the board, but parents say it has most impacted their social lives, their ability to develop a work/life balance, and their friendships.

Parents Are Concerned About Kids’ Mental Health

Mental Health America reports that more young people (ages 11 to 17) are taking their online screening tests during the pandemic. That age group is more likely than any other group to score for moderate to severe depression and anxiety.

But it wasn’t clear whether kids were accessing those resources on their own or parents are directing them to those sites.

We wanted to find out how concerned parents are about their kids' mental health. Our survey found that one in five parents are extremely concerned about their kids’ mental health right now, and 60% of parents are at least moderately concerned.

Parents also report they are growing increasingly concerned about their kids as the pandemic lingers on. Over half of parents say they’re more concerned about their kids’ mental health now than they were at the start of the pandemic.

A whopping 75% of parents have noticed that their kids between the ages of 4 and 18 have started displaying troubling behavior since the start of the pandemic.

 The most common symptoms/issues to have emerged during the pandemic are:

Kids Are Worrying

The types of thoughts kids have greatly impact how they feel and how they behave. A child who questions their ability, for example, may experience high anxiety. Consequently, they may struggle to persist at hard tasks—or they might avoid difficult situations altogether.

Other kids might experience a lot of negative thoughts—and they might exaggerate how awful things are. This can cause them to feel sad and depressed, which in turn might decrease their motivation to do anything.

The way kids think greatly impacts their mental health. So we asked parents what they’re noticing about their kids' thinking patterns.

Parents say their kids' biggest struggles with thinking are:

  • Worrying about things over and over again (35%)
  • Doubting themselves (28%)
  • Exaggerating how bad things are (27%)

Kids Are Having Trouble Calming Down

It’s healthy for kids to be able to experience a wide range of emotions and to have the coping skills they need to manage the emotions that aren’t serving them well. Emotion regulation is a key component of good mental health.

A willingness to face fear one small step at a time could help a shy child deliver a presentation in front of the class. Knowing how to calm down could help an angry child resolve conflict in a healthy way.

When it comes to feelings, parents say their kids' three biggest struggles right now are:

  • Difficulty calming down when upset (30%)
  • Problems managing their anxiety when they’re nervous (28%)
  • Worrying too much about the future (28%)

Kids Are Struggling With Motivation

Behavior is also a strong indicator of mental health. And while kids are supposed to break the rules and struggle to do their work sometimes—after all, they’re still learning—knowing how to take positive action is important.

It takes mental strength to push through hard tasks and to do activities that might not be pleasant—like chores or homework.

Of course, staying motivated and staying on task has been difficult during the pandemic, even for adults.

Parents say these are the three biggest behavioral struggles kids are facing right now:

  1. Getting chores/homework done (41%)
  2. Staying on task (39%)
  3. Motivating themselves to do things they don’t want to do (37%)

Signs Kids May Be Struggling With Mental Strength

Mental health and mental strength are not the same thing. But building more mental strength may prevent some mental health problems and may decrease symptoms of existing ones (similar to the way working out with weights can help you grow healthier, but it won’t necessarily prevent all physical health problems).

When it comes to the 13 things strong kids do, 80% of parents say their kids are struggling with at least one of those hallmarks of mental strength.

Here are the things kids are struggling with most:

  • Persisting at difficult tasks – 27% of kids are quitting too soon
  • Owning their mistakes – 26% of kids are hiding their mistakes
  • Adapting to change – 25% of kids are struggling to adapt
  • Trying again after failure – 25% of kids are giving up after they fail once

While some parents say these things were struggles before the pandemic, others say these struggles are new. Parents report these struggles started after the pandemic began:

  • Trouble adapting to change (16%)
  • Hiding mistakes (15%)
  • Quitting too soon (13%)

Parent Preparedness to Help

Parents recognize how important it is for them to support their kids right now. And 89% say they feel at least somewhat prepared to help their kids cope with the stress of the pandemic.

When it comes to helping kids manage specific skills, fewer parents feel prepared. Here are some of the things parents feel uncertain about:

  • 31% struggle to teach their kids how to take productive action when faced with challenges
  • 34% struggle to show their kids how to learn to regulate their feelings
  • 34% struggle to help their kids manage negative/unhelpful thoughts

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares what mentally strong parents do.

A Word From Verywell

It’s a good sign that parents are recognizing that kids are stressed right now and that parents are on the lookout for mental health problems. It’s also promising that parents are feeling at least somewhat prepared to help kids get through this stressful time.

Parents shouldn't hesitate to reach out for professional help for themselves or their children if they are seeing signs of depression, anxiety, or mental health issues. Early intervention can be key to helping kids manage their mental health and talking to a therapist may give parents and their children helpful strategies for building mental strength, staying mentally healthy, and combatting stress.

Methodology

Verywell conducted the above research as on online survey, fielded to 1,000 parents over the age of 18 who have children ages 4 to 18 who are living in the home. The survey was conducted from March 11 to March 16, 2021.

Demographics were as follows:

  • Age: Gen Z 3% | Millennial 53% | Gen X 38% | Boomer or Older 6%
  • Gender: Man 50% | Woman 50%
  • Race/Ethnicity: White 68% | Black or African American 14% | Hispanic or Latino 18% | Asian 7% | Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 1% | American Indian or Alaska Native 2% 
  • Region: South 38% | West 24% | Northeast 17% | Midwest 20% | U.S. Territories 1%·    
  • Household Income: <$25k 11% | $25k-$50k 16% | $50k-$75k 14% | $75k-$100k 17% | $100k-$150k 24% | >$150k 15%
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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Newson JJ, Pastukh V, Sukhoi O, Taylor J and Thiagarajan TC, Mental State of the World 2020, Mental Health Million project, Sapien Labs, March 2021