42% of Scottish parents say their children increasingly anxious about world events

New research among Scottish parents with children aged 5 to 18 has revealed that 42% think their children are becoming more anxious about world events like terrorism, global warming or the threat of nuclear war. 

The Mental Health Foundation is warning that young people are being exposed to shocking and potentially unsettling news more than ever before in the digital age, and this may be contributing to increased anxiety and mental ill health.

In response, the we are today publishing a guide on how to speak to our children about unsettling world events.

37% of parents in Scotland think their children are anxious about the threat of terrorism. Almost a quarter of Scottish parents (24%) indicated their children were anxious about the threat of nuclear war. 36% of Scottish parents thought their children were anxious about Donald Trump’s presidency. 33% of Scottish parents also thought their children were anxious about global warming and climate change.

In terms of signs parents are noticing, of those whose children were anxious, 6 in 10 (61%) have noticed their children starting to ask a lot more questions, a quarter (24%) had noticed their children seeking reassurance, and 13% reported that their children have gone as far as asking to avoid activities such using public transport or going to busy public places. A further 8% reported their children having nightmares.

The YouGov survey of over 1,800 GB parents included 162 Scottish parents and was commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation to uncover the impact world events could be having on children, and equip parents to respond.

Child psychology expert Dr Camilla Rosan of the Mental Health Foundation said: 

"We often forget that distressing world events can have a significant impact on the mental health of our children. This is especially true in the digital age where it’s no longer possible to shield our children from worrying or scary news.

"Our poll indicates widespread anxiety among children – especially about the threat of terrorism. But the good news is there is a lot we can do to help children cope with scary events. 

"It’s important for example to let children know the facts of any given event but also to put things into perspective and let them know they are safe. Anxiety about scary news events is normal, but not something children have to deal with alone.

"Parents can really help tackle problems early and support good mental health for their children by talking about these issues in an open and honest way. This lets them know that it’s okay to talk about scary or tricky subjects, and hopefully, will give them the confidence to talk about things that might be playing on their mind at other times too."

The charity's guide can be found on its website and includes the following:

  1. A news-blackout is rarely helpful.
  2. Let them know the facts.
  3. Discourage overexposure.
  4. Let your children know they are safe.
  5. Let them know that it is normal to be concerned.
  6. Tailor the conversation to their age.
  7. Find the right time to talk about it.
  8. Leave lots of space for questions.
  9. Allow for repetition.
  10. Be as truthful as possible.

Notes to editors

The survey was conducted by YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 1,879 adults with children between the ages of 5 and 18. Fieldwork was undertaken from 5-12 January 2018. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all British adults (aged 18+).