Technology and parents’ reactions can impact on anxiety in children

New research has shown that emotional issues among teenage girls are on the rise, with technology playing a part.

According to the research by the University College London (UCL) and the Anna Freud Centre, there has been a 55 per cent increase in anxiety between 2009 and 2014.

This is compared to other mental health and behavioural difficulties, which didn’t see a significant change over the time period.

It has been suggested that increasing pressure on girls to perform academically, coupled with anxiety over body image “amplified by social media”, could be reasons behind the rise.

The research compared the mental health of 1,683 11 to 13-year-old boys and girls in 2009 with the same number of pupils in 2014.

The pupils were matched by age, gender, ethnicity, eligibility for free school meals and the overall socio-economic mix of their schools.

According to figures, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the number of girls at risk of emotional problems rose from 13 per cent to 20 per cent in 2014 – meaning that, in an average class of around 30 pupils, where previously one or two girls might have exhibited emotional problems, now there would be three.

Commenting on the research, Dr Elian Fink, lead author of the report, said: “Five years is a relatively short period of time, so we were surprised to see such a sharp spike in emotional problems among girls.

“The fact that other mental health issues stayed about the same makes us think that there must have been significant changes over the past five years which have specifically affected young girls.”

She warned that “more effective interventions” were needed in order to address the issue, including increasing provision of mental health services for young people.

Elsewhere, a new study of twins shows anxiety can pass between the generations – over and above the genetic ties that bind them.

Although scientists have long known that anxiety runs within families, the study found the attitudes of over-anxious parents strongly affects their children’s behaviour.

Because the study involved parents who were identical and non-identical twins, researchers were able to distinguish between the influence on children’s anxiety exerted by family genes and their upbringing.

The research carried out by scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.