Today's children are worried about more than just their homework and peer pressure - they are also worried about terrorism and climate change and whether there will be a future for their own children.

These are just some of the serious issues a group of more than 170 New Zealand children have cited as major stresses in their lives.

Auckland University Researcher Fiona Pienaar interviewed children aged 8-12 for her PhD to find out what stressed them out and how they coped.

The study, which only involved children with no obvious stress, identified 29 common issues that caused stress, the majority of which were clustered around school and family.

There were others based on interpersonal issues, such as not being able to trust friends, being left out of things, fear of punishment and being confused by what adults did or said.

The fourth category was intrapersonal problems, such as worries about the future and what's happening in the world.

By comparing her results to studies from previous years she has found the source of a child's stress has changed dramatically from years gone by.

In the 1970s and 1980s, problems identified by children included family issues, friends and peer pressure. By the 1990s bullying, being hurt, stranger danger, disasters and being touched inappropriately had joined the list.

Ms Pienaar said the inclusion of bigger global issues like terrorism and global warming in today's tensions reflected a greater awareness by children of what was going on in the world.

Images of war and conflict around the world were particularly challenging for children, with one saying;

"Recently I've been worrying about some of the wars that are happening on the other side of the world, why are we just killing people, why can't we just kind of stop it? I kind of just think, I hope it doesn't get any worse."

Global warming and how a natural disaster would affect their lives were two other issues for children.

"I'm worried about the environment and the global warming, the ice and how it's going. I write it down in my little notebook ... I'm thinking people should actually stop the global warming before it's too late for their children," said one child.

Many children also worried about the future.

"The future, if we have children, would there be a future for them?" asked one child.

Ms Pienaar said that in the past children tended to think of themselves as immortal but these days things have changed.

They are far more exposed to the media and their parents' stress issues, which has led to a greater awareness of potentially stressful world issues.

"When children have those concerns it can be very distracting and I don't think it's surprising that we have increasing behaviour problems, increasing diagnosis of childhood anxiety disorders and childhood depression."

The positive thing was that children weren't passive recipients of stress.

"They have a very wide range of coping strategies."

Dr Peter Coleman, a developmental and educational psychologist, said many of the world stressors indicated by children were reflective of their surroundings.

"You'd expect it from the point of view that their parents are concerned about it, talk about it. They see it on the news so they would pick it up."

'I'm worried about people killing animals'

Nine-year-old Joanna Laxon stresses about finishing school projects, "stuff outside of school", the environment and "what will happen later on in life".

It's a lot for the Auckland girl to worry about but she has plenty of ways of coping with it, from talking to her parents to writing it all down.

According to research into what many 8- to 12-year-olds stress about, Joanna seems to be typical of New Zealand children these days.

When asked what things outside of school caused her stress she said "things that just don't have to do with school". Some are things she's read in the paper or heard from friends.

She had plenty of environmental concerns, including global warming and Iceland's erupting volcano.

"I don't know much about it but I know it's not very good," she said about global warming.

Joanna said these environment issues stressed her out because they "could make a problem". She also worried how they could affect her and other people in the future and the potential harm from pollution.

"Sometimes I just kind of worry about how so many people are killing animals, like in Africa a lot of people are killing lions because their territory is being ruined and then they come to the farms and kill the cows and the farmers shoot them."

Pressure points
* Tomorrow: How children worry about school and family.

* Friday: Friends, trust and being confused by what adults do and say.