There is a new Best Evidence in Brief with an interesting study on adolescents:
Although worrying is a normal response to an anticipated threat, excessive worry can be problematic. A new article in the British Journal of Health Psychology analyzes the development of worry throughout childhood.
The authors used data from The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a longitudinal population-based cohort study that enrolled pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. Mothers completed self-report questionnaires on their child’s development and health at regular intervals, including on their child’s level of worry and the impact on daily functioning at age 7, 10, and 13.
All reported analyses were conducted on the sample of mothers who completed the questionnaire at all three ages (N = 2,227), and the authors took the mothers’ own anxiety levels into account. Mothers reported a peak of worrisome thoughts at age 10. Emotional disruption was highest at 10, and the highest level of interference in daily life was observed at 13, especially for girls. Advanced pubertal status and worry frequency were positively associated for boys at 10 and girls at 13. Advanced puberty at 10 was also associated with overall higher worry frequency and emotional disruption.
The authors conclude that their findings align with existing research on patterns of childhood depression, but note that the generalizability and validity of the results might be restricted by the sole reliance on mothers’ report of child worry.
Abstract of the study:
Anxiety is a normal part of childhood and adolescence; however, longitudinal research investigating the development of worrisome thoughts throughout childhood is lacking. This study investigated mothers’ perspectives on their child’s normal development of worry as the cognitive component of anxiety and its impact on child functioning in a longitudinal population-based cohort.
The data for this study were extracted from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Mothers (N = 2,227) reported on their child’s worry content, frequency, control, emotional disruption, and interference when their child was 7, 10, and 13 years old using the parent component of the Development and Well-being Assessment. At age 10 and 13, pubertal status was assessed using children’s self-report of pubic hair developmental progress.
Mothers reported a peak of worrisome thoughts at 10. Emotional disruption was highest at 10, and the highest level of interference in daily life was observed at 13, especially for girls. Advanced pubertal status and worry frequency were positively associated for boys at 10 and girls at 13. Advanced puberty at 10 was also associated with overall higher worry frequency and emotional disruption.
Findings are discussed within a developmental framework outlining the normal development of worrisome thoughts, associated distress, and interference throughout early adolescence. Increased knowledge of normative worry could be informative to further our understanding of adolescence as a vulnerable period for the development of mental health problems, such as generalized anxiety disorder.