Study Uncovers What Parents Fear Most

Child reaches for stovetop panParenthood makes worry inevitable, but the threats parents worry about change with each generation. The National Poll on Children’s Health, conducted annually by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, is a phone survey that asks a nationwide sample of adults to list the top 10 threats faced by children in their communities, as well as for children across the country.

The most recent poll suggests that violence and health are ongoing concerns for most parents. Over the years, obesity tends to top the list of concerns among those polled, along with bullying and substance abuse, and this year’s poll brings gun-related injuries and school violence into the mix.

What Do Parents Fear?

When parents were surveyed on the biggest threats to children across the United States, 55% put childhood obesity on the list, making childhood obesity the greatest concern of all.

The top 10 “big problems” affecting children nationwide, according to adults surveyed, include:

1. Childhood obesity – 55%
2. Bullying – 52%
3. Substance abuse – 49%
4. Smoking – 47%
5. Violence at school – 44%
6. Child abuse – 42%
7. Alcohol abuse – 41%
8. Internet safety – 40%
9. Gun-related injuries – 39%
10. Teen pregnancy – 37%

Adults frequently expressed different concerns for children living in their local communities. Childhood obesity still topped the list, with 29% of parents ranking it as a major local threat.

The top 10 biggest local threats included:

1. Childhood obesity – 29%
2. Smoking – 26%
3. Drug abuse – 26%
4. Bullying – 23%
5. Stress – 22%
6. Alcohol abuse – 19%
7. Internet safety – 18%
8. Child abuse and neglect – 18%
9. Teen pregnancy – 16%
10. Not enough physical activity – 15%

The Most Common Threats for Children

Parents’ fears can be influenced by media coverage of frightening events, such as mass shootings. In some cases, parental fear is reflective of common threats. Child abuse, for example, is startlingly common, with more than 6 million cases reported to state child protection organizations in 2012.

Parents don’t always worry about the biggest threats, though. Some leading causes of childhood deaths didn’t make the list. Among babies, the leading causes of death are sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), developmental and congenital conditions, and low birth weight. Among children ages 1–14, cancer, developmental and genetic conditions, and accidents are the leading causes of death. Suicide, homicide, and accidents top the list among older teenagers.

Though parents’ worries might not always directly reflect the threats their children face, it makes sense that parents might feel anxious in general. In 2013, UNICEF rated child welfare in industrialized countries. The U.S. had the second-highest child poverty rate, and overall, the U.S. ranked 26 out of 29 countries on measures of child welfare.


  1. Child abuse and neglect stats. (2014, August). Retrieved from
  2. Death among children and adolescents. (2012, August 1). Retrieved from
  3. School violence, gun-related injury among top 10 child health concerns nationally. (2014, August 11). Retrieved from
  4. Schwayder, M. (2013, April 11). UNICEF report on child well-being shows U.S. near bottom of list. Retrieved from

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  • brandon

    August 16th, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    Things have changed so much from when Iw as a kid I know that the things that we worry about today are probably very different from the fears that my own parents had when all of us were growing up. I honestly just want to live somewhere where I don’t have to worry about any of these things but I guess that would be like living with my head buried in the sand. There are so many things wrong in the world today that it is nice to think about the calm days when we were growing up, but I guess that those times are gone for good and we just have to do the best that we can to protect our children from the hatred that is out there today.

  • Garrison

    August 16th, 2014 at 12:42 PM

    Are you kidding me that childhood obesity ranks at the top? it is the one thing out of so many on this list that we actually have some control over and yet this is our biggest fear? Maybe there are some of us who have this to contend with on a genetic level but for the rest of us it is about teaching ourselves and our kids to make some better choices in life. Do that and fear #1 automatically goes away on its own.

  • ann r

    August 18th, 2014 at 5:24 AM

    Of course these are all things that parents worry about, but I think that for the most part I worry about the things that are so normal and yet so prevalent in the lives of our kids today. I worry about my kids making new friends, making it through any tough situation, worry about not doing well in school or grasping the material. I think that it is only natural as a parent to worry about a multitude of different things but then to have to step back and hope that you have prepared them the ebst way that you know how to get through them and make the right choices.

  • Gwen

    August 18th, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    It’s terrible but I think that there is probably this huge divide between what parents are scared of and what our kids are actually afraid of.

    I think that if you ask them, their own list might not differ in what’s on there but it could be in a much different order that what ours is listed as.

    So maybe it would be smart to begin asking them what the things are that they are scared of and try to make some real changes besed on their answers and comments.

    We can’t ease their fears by merely easing our own.

  • Kellen

    August 19th, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    The things today are so different than what our own parents had to contend with! They were always worried about us doing drugs, staying out past curfew or maybe even sleeping around. But they never had to worry about online safety, or even thought about the possibility of someone opening fire on us at school. The worries felt the same but there are a lot of other things that we have to deal with today than they did so it is important to keep our eyes open to any new danger that could come along. That means listening to your kids, and finding out what all of the enw trends really are.

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