A recent study from the National Institutes of Health indicates that kids have lots of stress—and their parents might be causing it. The study abstract covering parents’ expectations from a child opens by stating that “high achievement expectations and academic pressure from parents” are causing “rising levels of stress and reduced well-being among adolescents.”
What’s the issue? Increased competition to get into college, coupled with rising levels of post-graduate underemployment and unemployment, have led parents to put more pressure on their kids to perform better in school. The study states that, as a result, “today’s young people face more competition for academic and career achievement than any previous generation.”
The study was conducted by polling 506 middle schoolers to assess what their parents cared about more: kindness or good grades. It showed that students of parents who emphasized academic achievement actually had worse grades, more behavioral problems, and more stress than students with parents who emphasized kindness.
It is important to consider that the findings of the study were primarily culled “from a predominantly white, upper-middle-class community,” and that a broader study may have yielded different results.
Not the Only Indicator
This NIH study is not the only indicator that stress levels are rising in today’s kids. Parenting experts are saying that more and more kids are becoming chronically stressed. Some conjecture that kids are getting less sleep because they’re more plugged into tech devices. Bullying on social media is linked to depression and risk-taking behaviors.
These experts have suggested that parents can step into the role of teaching their kids healthy habits. Parents can make sure their kids get to bed on time, unplug from their devices, and develop a healthy sense of balance.
But some parents are taking the idea of balance too far, in the race to engineer well-rounded college applicants. They are overloading their kids with extracurricular activities, which means less quality family time, and parents are finding their energy and monetary resources depleted. Then, of course, there’s the aforementioned pressure to do well in school—a stress that dangerously lingers on into college, where some students experience serious depression.
Though the NIH study is one of the more recent surveys, larger ones have been performed. The Harvard Graduate School of Education surveyed over 10,000 children from 33 different school districts back in 2015. Researchers concluded that many parents impress upon their children that academic achievement trumps happiness and kindness.
Joseph Roberts is a motivational speaker, teacher training facilitator, and secondary school math teacher for over 16 years. He has found that students in his classes need to be reassured that math is not a matter of life and death, because students have had “to grapple with the fears of being judged or punished for not measuring up academically.”
He tells Parentology that students are feeling pressure to do well in all of their classes, and receiving a push to take advanced-placement classes in every subject. The result? That “students can’t handle the pressure and end up with anxiety…even with simple everyday tasks or interactions,” he says.
Educators can also play into this cycle of stress, because of concerns over standardized testing. Roberts explains, “Educators need to be careful and not allow that mindset to overshadow the ultimate goal of producing happy, healthy, emotionally balanced, critically thinking citizens.”
Overall, the emphasis that parents place on grades in order to get their kids into a good college may be backfiring. These parents may “overlook some of the more important values that need to be taught” in order to make sure that “their child is prepared to be accepted into the correct universities and colleges.”
Roberts believes that educators can change the negative side effects of this academic pressure right in the classroom. He suggests establishing a positive connection with students.
“The greatest changes are affected when both educators and parents work together to make the student feel that they are loved regardless of the outcome of their academics,” he says.