Parents almost always want the best for their children -- many harbor dreams of top colleges, followed by lucrative careers within a global, competitive economy. In order for kids to meet these expectations, though, they must perform well during the school years. Many parents put intense pressure on their children to earn perfect grades, no matter the cost. Experts warn that this type of intense pressure around school and performance can backfire, leading to social, emotional and physical stress.
Why Parents Pressure Kids
Parents can be well-intentioned in wanting their kids to do well in school, but they are often too heavily influenced by a culture of academic intensity, says Anxiety.org. They see the booming test prep industry and feel pressure of their own to make sure their teen achieves a high score on the SAT. At many schools, parents can track their child's progress online and access their grades on tests, quizzes and homework assignments, creating a situation where they have so much information, they can start to obsess over every single score. Of course, there are the looming fears surrounding college admission. Parents are all too aware it's much more difficult to get into college in today's world. By ramping up the academic pressure, they're hoping to spare their children the disappointment and feelings of failure that may come along with not getting admitted to college. "Rejection can be heart-breaking and devastating. Especially for high-achieving students who spent countless hours studying and preparing for assignments, exams and projects," note experts with Anxiety.org.
Stress and Anxiety
Unfortunately, many kids collapse under too much parental pressure. Sleep deprivation, eating disorders, excessive worrying, cheating, burnout, loss of interest in hobbies or withdrawing from friends and family can all be consequences of excess pressure. Stress and anxiety can manifest physically, too. "Anxiety can present differently in children than in adults. While adults are typically able to identify and express when they feel anxious, children may just complain of physical symptoms or not say anything at all," Jason Schiffman, M.D., resident physician at the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, explains. Kids feeling overwhelmed about school performance may have stomachaches, diarrhea, headaches and rashes. Younger children may experience nightmares or refuse to go to school.
In a school culture full of standardized tests and sometimes upward of four to five hours of homework per night, it's no wonder so many parents feel compelled to hover and monitor their children's academic lives. The consequences of this can be profoundly negative, a study published in the Journal of Child and Family studies found. Researchers found that children of parents who put pressure on them by "over-managing" their lives at school ended up having higher levels of depression, decreased satisfaction with life and lower levels of autonomy and competence. The researchers concluded that though the parents in the study believed they were being supportive, ultimately this extremely involved parenting style undermined their children's developing sense of self and confidence.
Reducing Pressure: What Parents Can Do
If you find you're putting undue pressure on your kids to achieve academically, try to remember it's your job to keep their stress levels under control. If they seem overwhelmed, don't shy away from talking to their pediatrician or a counselor who specializes in teen or family issues. Remember to nurture your child's strengths -- so she thinks science is boring and can't seem to earn above a B, but loves to draw. That's okay! Try to be accepting and sign her up for an art class. Setting realistic expectations is also important. Unless your child is the rare student who truly loves every subject, it's not reasonable -- or healthy -- to require As across the board. Also, give your child the chance to relax. Just like adults, kids need periods of "check-out" time in order to alleviate tension and reduce stress.