Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is a normal and sometimes lifesaving response to threat. In children, fears of strangers, heights, or water are common and can serve as protection from harm. Adolescents are frequently anxious about being embarrassed in social situations or about performing poorly on important tests or in athletic competitions.

Most parents learn how to help their child or teen cope with common fears, which usually come and go. Young children may need night lights, “protective” stuffed animals, and parental presence, while older children and teens may find it most helpful to talk about their fears.

When a child's or teen's anxiety persists and is severe enough to cause significant distress or interfere with daily life, an anxiety problem or disorder may develop. Early assessment and intervention can be key to treating and preventing childhood anxiety disorders.

Key Facts

  • About 13 of every 100 children and adolescents ages 9 to 17 experience some kind of anxiety disorder; girls are affected more than boys.1
  • Shy children are at increased risk for developing anxiety disorders.2,3
  • Children and teens with anxiety disorders are at risk for underachievement in school, low self-esteem, and psychiatric problems in adulthood, especially depression and anxiety.2
  • Up to 15 percent of female and 6 percent of male children and teens who experience trauma meet criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, rates of PTSD are much higher in children and teens who have witnessed a parental homicide or sexual assault (PTSD rate of nearly 100 percent), have themselves been sexually abused (90 percent), have been exposed to a school shooting (77 percent), or have been exposed to violence in an urban community (35 percent).4,5


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1999). Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. Bernstein, G. A., Borchardt, C. M., & Perwien, A. R. (1996). Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: A review of the past 10 years. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35 (9), 1110-1119.
  3. Kagan, J., Reznick, J. S., & Snidman, N. (1988). Biological bases of childhood shyness. Science, 240 (4849), 167-171.
  4. Hamblen J. (2001). PTSD in Children and Adolescents: A National Center for PTSD Fact Sheet. White River Junction, VT: National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Web site:
  5. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (1998). Practice parameters for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 37(10Suppl.): 4S-26S.