Perceived parental pressures on girls from wealthy families and the effect this has on their mental health and wellbeing.

As someone who is by no means from a wealthy background and whose mum provided little to no pressure to become a competitive high-achiever during my school years (her approach being along the lines of “You have a choice of whether to study or not, and if you get detention then it’s your own fault”), I have wondered whether if I were from the other end of the spectrum, receiving pressure to achieve from high-income parents would have raised my educational standards and given me a strong sense of wellbeing.

Educational attainment in females is currently at a record high, with more females going into higher education, university and beyond. While this is an all positive and empowering statement, adolescent girls often report higher levels of stress and dissatisfaction with school, especially those from wealthier backgrounds. I question why this is the case when these girls have access to high achieving schools and resources, and whether parental influences play a role.

A recent study by Spencer and colleagues, published in the Journal of Adolescent Research in 2018 conducted interviews on girls from wealthy single-sex schools (77% self-identified as white Caucasian), as well as interviewing their parents to investigate themes of stress and wellbeing.

Through analysis of these interviews, the researchers identified emergent themes surrounding the girl’s perceived cause of their stress. Many of the girls believed that their parents were the root cause of their stress, feeling as though their parent’s performance expectations were ‘out of sync’ with their own expectations they held for themselves. Some of the girls expressed how everyone wanted them to reach their full potential and how these high expectations interfered with the relationships they have with their parents. What was a cause for concern is how the girl’s stress was normalised and accepted to be a part of the school’s culture with one girl stating that she had occasional panic attacks but explained ‘it’s not that bad’.

The parents in this research were not naïve of their daughter’s stress and were indeed concerned. However, the parents would often contradict their own statements, perceiving themselves to be encouraging the girls to not be so harsh on themselves, at the same time expressing that the grades they achieve were ‘not good enough’. Some parents accepted that their daughters needed to perform at high levels to ‘make it’ in society but some would also say that they were open to a spectrum of grades so long as the girls tried their best.

The main conclusion to take away from these interviews is the general theme that the girls perceived their parents to be contributing to their stress, whereas the parents tended to not share this belief and viewed themselves as more laid back in comparison to their daughter’s description of them. This research provides an important contribution towards young people’s stress and perceived parental pressures. It is important to note that the sample size was relatively small and obtained from only 2 schools. To investigate the validity of this research, a larger sample is required. Likewise, a possible follow-up interview at the end of high school would be interesting to see whether the girls’ perceived source of stressed changed throughout their education.

From reading this research, I can infer that girls from wealthy backgrounds are stressed. My interpretation is that their parents are trying hard to encourage their daughters to be academically successful, which is not necessarily a bad thing, however, perhaps these parents tend to encourage goals more towards achievement and extrinsic success rather than intrinsic goals. Since it is assumed that parents can be influential towards their children’s self-esteem, they have a big role to play in their mental health and wellbeing.

Ciciolla and colleagues (2017) have suggested that to increase wellbeing in young people from wealthy schools, parents should focus on promoting prosocial values that encourage healthy relationships and community at least as much as promoting educational attainment. Similarly, a focus towards promoting young people’s intrinsic interests, whether educational or not, has been shown to increase motivation and developing a sense of wellbeing (See Ryan & Deci’s self-determination theory for more information).

After researching for this post, I believe that coming from a low-pressure, working class household was beneficial for me. I did not achieve the best grades at school that I probably would have achieved if my parents were high-achieving and wealthy, but as a consequence, I learnt to encourage myself to work hard and I am thankful that I was promoted to be independent.

There is a lot of pressure for young people to strive for educational and career progression in today’s society, therefore it is important for parents to be aware of how their approach can contribute towards the already apparent stress placed on their children.




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