Why Kids Still Need Their Parents

Drinking Tea With Mom Is Fun. Little Girl.

Secondary school is an intense period in the lives of young people.  Not only is it a turbulent time of key identity formation, unrelenting peer pressure, and rapid physical maturation; there is often incredible pressure to also perform exceedingly well at school.  This can be in the grades achieved, sporting accomplishments, high social standing, and overall popularity.  More often, it is all of these things at the same time.

In this context, we ran across a recent paper in Adversity and Resilience Science that explored the risks of performance pressure on adolescent students. Although the study is specific to youth in high-achieving schools, there are observations we believe relevant to all youth who are under pressure to perform and achieve in secondary school.

The study looked at five drivers associated with the pressure to achieve: feelings of envy, comparisons on social media, negative feedback from others, support from friends, and time pressure.  Also examined were two potential offsets of pressure: time spent on social media, and attachment to parents.

A striking finding from the study was the powerful influence of social comparison and its links to distress in young people.  Making comparisons of individual performance and achievement with their peers can be highly destructive for young people.  Moreover, this can be worsened by their time spent on social media viewing depictions of their peers engaged in high achievement (whether real or manufactured). 

For us, another noticeable element of the study was its affirmation that a young person’s closeness to at least one parent serves a critical protective function in offsetting performance stress.  However, closeness to friends or support from friends showed few associations in the study.  This makes us speculate that, particular to reducing performance stress in secondary school, it is the support from parents (as opposed to friends) that really counts.

To this effect, young people must feel unconditional acceptance from parents to overcome performance pressure.   Specifically, the paper notes that “…adults will need to proactively reduce the degree to which these students’ sense of their own self-worth depends on the splendour of their accomplishments, and instead, rests on stable feelings that they are loved for who they are as individuals.”  This is sage advice, not just concerning school achievement, but in helping young people flourish across all aspects of this amazing juncture in their life.

We thank the researchers for their vital contribution to understanding resilience in adolescents.

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Reference

Suniya, S. L., et al. (2020).  Students in High-Achieving Schools: Perils of Pressures to Be “Standouts”. Adversity and Resilience Science, 1:135-147.

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David

David

Dave has a highly successful background in the government, corporate, entrepreneurial, and not for profit sectors. All that aside, Dave is best known as a quiet guy with an unembarrassed love of the mountains, a passion for protecting animals, and as being a great support crew for his wife during her marathon running.

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