Meg St-Esprit’s seven-year-old son had always been wary of germs. If a classmate “licked the end of a marker and put it back in the bin,” she says, he’d avoid the markers for the rest of the day.

But the constant barrage of COVID-19 news this past year amplified those fears to a fever pitch. “He’s a ball of anxiety,” says St-Esprit, a mother of four in Pennsylvania. “He got to the point where, within our house, he was like, ‘I don’t want a sibling to touch me because they might give me corona.’”

Phobias, anxiety, and kids

Childhood fears are a normal part of growing up, with different ones appearing and fading at different developmental stages. Babies, for example, are afraid of strangers; toddlers fear the dark.

According to Kate Fitzgerald, co-director of the Child OCD and Anxiety Disorders Program at the University of Michigan, most kids grow out of these anxieties by the time they’re about 10 years old, when the part of the brain responsible for behavior adaptation and decision making matures. But in some cases, they persist and become diagnosable conditions.

Germaphobia is a layperson’s term used to describe a heightened awareness of germs. On the other hand, symptoms for clinical phobias are “usually triggered by observable external stimuli,” Fitzgerald says. Since we can’t hear, see, or smell germs ourselves, extreme cases of “germaphobia” are usually attributed to other disorders.

Read the full article at National Geographic.