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Childhood anxiety in the digital age

Upcoming workshops in Pemberton, Whistler to help parents address anxiety in children
FACING ANXIETY Rebecca Mitchell will host a workshop focusing on childhood anxiety on Tuesday, April 7 at Pemberton Secondary School. photo submitted

It's a problem more and more of today's youth are facing: a growing sense of anxiety.

Anxiety is now the most common disorder that gets kids referred to mental health services, and recent stats show about one in five children suffer from it.

There are a number of reasons — bullying and social media among them — but the biggest factor may be how parents react to their child's worries.

"We're in a culture of parenting where we use a lot of things like time outs and negative consequences (or) reward systems, and that's very alarming for children," said Rebecca Mitchell, registered clinical counsellor with The Wishing Star Lapointe Development Clinic in Surrey.

"Parents are all doing this with the best of intentions, to sort of prepare their children for how to be in society, but are not aware of how that is alarming for kids."

On Tuesday, April 7, Mitchell is holding the Anxiety 101 — Parent Education Workshop in the Pemberton Secondary School gym from 7 to 9 p.m.

The workshop is hosted by the District Parent Advisory Council and parents can attend free of charge with no need to register.

"Parents can expect to, I think, get a really good understanding in terms of the roots of anxiety," Mitchell said.

"So we'll be talking a lot about the 'alarm system,' how that works, how it's necessary, but how when it gets overused it can easily get off track."

Everyone's brains are hardwired to assess danger and keep us safe, Mitchell said, but sometimes parents overreact to the normal, nervous responses of their children.

"Sometimes I find early on, when kids start to feel alarmed about things that they should be alarmed about, parents start to get worried about that," Mitchell said.

"So parents need to be aware of why it is that we have an alarm system kind of wired within us, and that it's OK for kids to feel a little bit nervous in certain situations.

"We actually want that, where nowadays I think we push kids earlier and earlier into situations not expecting them to be nervous about it, and if they do get nervous then we get all worried."

While parents can often contribute to anxiety in small children, it's technology that has perhaps played the biggest role in enhancing the problem for teenagers and adolescents.

"I'm finding certain adolescents are even feeling worried about being at school, because they have this sense that at any moment they could be caught on somebody's video and that could like be spread throughout the world within two seconds," Mitchell said.

"So I think there's a sense of vulnerability there, and there's also this false sense of... if I don't have as many friends as you have on Facebook, then something is wrong with me."

Fortunately for parents, anxiety can be addressed in all young people, regardless of age.

"A maladaptive alarm system is a maladaptive alarm system," Mitchell said.

"You have to get in and deal with the root of that in order to have them be able to move on, and gain the resilience to cope with all of those challenges they'll be facing."

For more information on Mitchell's workshop email Lara at or Margot at

Another anxiety presentation — hosted by registered psychologist Kristin Buhr — will be taking place April 21 at Whistler Secondary School.

More details to come.