Parental pressure: boon or a bane?

Most of the parents believe that the world is driven by hyper competition and perfectionism where success refers to the highest status, performance and appearance. There is no harm in aspiring the best for the children. We cannot deny the importance of parental involvement and guidance in the child’s success but the problem begins when the parental involvement gets converted to an undue pressure which often begins disrupting their child’s life, messing up with their psychology and thus, ending up doing more harm than good to their child.

To get to the core of what motivates parents to guide versus pressure their children, we need to focus on parents’ values and beliefs concerning achievement. In an effort to do so, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University, Center for Talented Youth (CTY), examined parents’ perceptions about the importance of high achievement, conceptions of academic success, and achievement goals for their children. Parents’ widespread involvement in school was mirrored by agreement that it was important for their children to excel in school (92%). When parents believe that high achievement is very important, they are likely to get involved. But are parents’ beliefs about achievement and success, as well as school involvement, mirrored in terms of children’s feelings of pressure? The answer is no; instead of 92 percent, only 39 percent of students agreed that they feel “a lot of pressure from their parents to always be an exceptional student.” Further investigation by Ablard and Parker (1997) in Parents’ Achievement Goals and Perfectionism in Their Academically Talented Children, examined specific achievement goals that parents have regarding achievement. Parents were asked to list goals they had for their child’s achievement and the responses were classified as pertaining to a learning goal, a performance goal, both, or neither. A response was classified as a learning goal if parents predominantly focused on their child’s understanding of material and improvement in performance. Twenty-eight percent of all parent pairs (i.e., both mother and father) had a learning goal. On the other hand, a response was classified as a performance goal if parents predominantly focused on their child’s competence and attainment of socially set standards (e.g., high grades and test scores). Eleven percent of all parent pairs had a performance goal. (The remaining sixty-one percent of parent pairs consisted of one parent with a learning goal and the other parent with a performance goal, or at least one parent with neither type of goal.) Children for whom both parents had a performance goal were more likely than children for whom both parents had a learning goal to have a combination of high concern about mistakes, doubts about their actions, parental expectations, and parental criticism. Because of high parental standards and criticism, these children are likely to experience feelings of pressure. Given the low percentage of parent pairs with a performance goal for their children, the findings of this study help to refute the popular belief that the majority of parents of academically talented children push their children to excel.

These studies contribute to our understanding of the role that parents might play in their children’s academic achievement. In contrast to popular belief, most parents of academically talented students do not seem to play a detrimental role in their children’s achievement by pressuring them to achieve. These parents, in general, do not focus exclusively on high academic performance such as grades and test scores. Even when they do, almost one-half of these parents also focus on understanding of material and personal improvement in performance. Such a balance, especially when accompanied with support and guidance, is unlikely to foster feelings of pressure.

Further research is needed to understand how parents’ belief systems affect the specific ways in which they interact with their children, and ultimately how beliefs filter down to impact children’s feelings and long-term achievement. Given that underachievement has been recognized as a risk that is especially pertinent to academically talented students, parents’ conceptions of success and related achievement goals for their children should continue to be important for understanding the underachievement of our most promising youth.

While placing high expectations over the child can be healthy but one must beware of the consequences of constantly pressurizing the child. When the children are made to feel that each homework assignment or a class test is going to either make or break their future or maybe making it into the sports team could determine if they get a college scholarship, that pressure will undoubtedly have negative consequences. Well, parental pressure is not just limited to the child’s performance, sometimes it could be about their appearance, physique, gender identity, sexuality or maybe some of their kid’s habits which they find inappropriate as far as their status in the society is concerned.

Most of the times, parents want their kids to be perfectly perfect which in their terms is someone even better than the best. They often call them as being abnormal even if it’s about something insignificant. Many a times, in the families where the parents are quite social or extroverted and if unfortunately there kid is somewhat reserved or introverted, someone who spends most of the time by his own, the kid is constantly reprimanded for such behavior. There are parents who may believe such behavior is socially unacceptable. There are parents whose constant pressurizing attitude leads to the child developing eating disorders. Many parents constantly remind the child that there physique isn’t normal, like- they may use fat as an insult often or if the kid is too skinny he is reminded again and again to gain weight to look “normal”. Such attitude could lead to bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa. Such conditions can often be fatal. 

However, the kids who feel that they’re under constant pressure may experience constant anxiety. High amounts of stress can also place children at a greater risk of developing depression or other mental health issues. Pushing kids to excel can damage their self-esteem. The constant stress to perform interferes with children’s identity formation and causes them to feel like they’re not good enough.  Kids who feel constant pressure to do well in school may stay up late studying and as a result, they may struggle to get enough sleep. When the focus is on achievement—rather than learning—kids are more likely to cheat. Whether it’s a young child catching a glimpse of his neighbor’s answer on a test, or a college student paying someone to write a term paper, cheating is common among kids who feel pressure to perform well. Sometimes parents deny certain warning signs of mental illnesses in their children simply by saying that it’s just a phase and their child will get over it. And the worst outcome, the suicidal tendencies, when the kids resort to ending their lives when the pressure becomes intolerable. So, just stop waiting for that limit and act right away.

 First and the foremost, no one in the world can ever be perfect, you must embrace the child the way he is, no matter how he looks, how he likes expressing his gender, what he feels about being himself, no matter what is his IQ. Don’t try to take away his identity in the zeal for perfection. Try working over your language. Whether your kid won ranked one in the class or his team lost a game, avoid telling this to your child that his performance was an absolute success or that losing was terrible. Instead, let your child identify what he did well and what he thinks he could do better the next time. Cut your child some slack. If you find yourself constantly yelling at your child because he didn’t make his bed correctly or you are angry with him for getting some spellings wrong in some insignificant dictation, take a deep breath. Remember that kids are supposed to make mistakes and every mistake is another learning opportunity. Stop comparing yourself or your child to others. Always remember that you’re only seeing the highlight reel of the other person’s life and that’s obviously not the whole film. Do not compare your child to other children either. All children are different and special in their own unique ways. Send healthy messages about failure. Let your child make mistakes and fail sometimes. Talk about failure as a learning opportunity and acknowledge that failing a test or not making the school play is hard, but it’s not the end of the world. Pay attention to your child’s effort, not the outcome. Rather than praising your child for getting an A on a test, praise him for studying hard. Or instead of telling her that she did a great job scoring two goals in the game, tell her that you noticed she hustled hard. Then, she’ll be more likely to focus on doing the best rather than making sure to achieve at any cost. Back off when your child is overwhelmed. It’s helpful to cheer your child on when he’s struggling, but insisting he keep trying after he is mentally drained out isn’t exactly a good idea. If he starts disliking activities he used to love, like baseball or piano, it may be a sign you’re pushing him too hard. Challenge your child to do well but don’t push him to do more than he’s capable of doing.

#Content created by Akanksha Mahajan

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