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Today’s youth is often subjected to unachievable standards and guidelines. Although well-wishers, parents can often enforce feelings of anxiety when they make their children conform to their standards of success.

In a study of 800 families, 56% of parents’ definition of success included their children entering a prestigious university and pursuing a high-paying career. In addition, a study conducted at an independent school resulted in more than ⅓ of the students identifying “getting into a good college” as more important than “being a good person.” Nearly one-half of students said that their parents had enforced these ideas on them. However, these “visions” of success often result in a child compromising their character, personal growth, and interests to conform to their parent’s standard of success. These standards also yield mental and physical health issues and low self-esteem.

One study of 144 girls, who were academically pressured by their parents, revealed that these girls were two to three times more likely to report clinical levels of depression than the general population of teens.

The Journal of Child and Family Studies 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. According to Jason Schiffman, M.D., a resident physician at the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, these high standards could manifest into feelings of anxiety. However, not always being able to identify this issue, students might merely “just complain of physical symptoms or not say anything at all.” However, this issue can not simply be overlooked.

This problem extends to students of all walks of life and ages. A 2010 survey found that a third of Chinese primary school children suffer from psychological stress. 80% of 6 to 12-year-old children from Eastern China said they were worried about exams and physical punishment by parents and teachers if they didn’t perform well. “The problems start from as young as six when children enter school and find themselves ranked against their peers with weekly examinations.”  

This issue is detrimental to one’s mental health and self-esteem and can burden students, even as they get older. Charles Ducey, a psychologist who was the head of a counseling clinic at Harvard University, said that he “saw students all the time who just hated themselves for not succeeding, for not getting a great grade in a course, and they had no idea why they were so hard on themselves.”

Parents’ unrealistic expectations create pressure and foster performance anxiety. It is not just students’ mental health that is compromised, but oftentimes their academic integrity, physical health, and personal interests. Students can often resort to drastic measures such as cheating, and depriving themselves of sleep, to obtain their parents’ vision of success. They might be forced into pursuing extracurricular activities that are not of interest to them, in order to “please universities.” Despite all of the student’s efforts, it has been proven by the article “Privileged but Pressured? A Study of Affluent Youth” that those who are subjected to intense achievement pressure by their parents don’t necessarily outperform other students.

It is important to do your best in whatever you do, but not at the cost of your mental, and physical health, or losing sight of who you are and what you love.

In order to change this narrative, we must redefine the word “success.” Success is about nurturing your passions, and being your most authentic and truest self when doing so. It is about individuality and not conforming to other standards, or comparing yourself to other people. As Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”



Tags: mental health mental health awareness month
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