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Rising Student Anxiety May Be Fueled by Rising Adult Expectations

The CDC last week released a study showing that teen depression and suicidal thoughts have risen by more than 40% in the last ten years. At the same time, the American Psychological Association published a meta-analysis of various studies indicating that parental expectations may be the biggest driver of unrealistic perfectionism and associated mental health problems in students.

The researchers looked at two sets of studies. The first set of studies had data from more than 7,000 college students, and indicated that parental expectations and criticism had a strong correlation to perfectionism in college students. The second set of studies looked at 84 studies of almost 24,000 college students between 1989 and 2021. The researchers found that parental expectations had increased by almost 40%, measured by students' perceptions.

It's understandable that parents want their children to succeed and live up to their potential. It's very easy for youth organizations to fall into the trap of adding to that pressure, all with the best intentions of giving parents the good things that they want for their kids. A growing body of evidence, however, suggests that we are hurting our kids instead of helping them. We need to find a way to let our children be less than perfect and even not live up to their potential. Perhaps the best way to lower stress and anxiety is to lower our own expectations, and let our kids learn how to be comfortable being ordinary and imperfect people. At the end of the day, their mental health is more important than their grades or any other traditional measure of success.

Parents can help their children navigate societal pressures in a healthy way by teaching them that failure, or imperfection, is a normal and natural part of life, Curran said. “Focusing on learning and development, not test scores or social media, helps children develop healthy self-esteem, which doesn’t depend on others’ validation or external metrics,” he said.

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youth services law, mental health research, mental health, insights, ausburn_deborah