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Are Kids Under Too Much Academic Pressure?


We live in a culture driven by competition and perfectionism—where success is defined by status, performance, and appearance. Both our children and ourselves are exposed to these pressures daily and respond to such pressures, whether we are aware of it or not. The truth of the matter is that this is the nature of the competitive world we live in, and that may not be changing anytime soon. So, how can we as parents buffer some of the negative effects of the competitive nature of the world for our children, while still supporting them in doing their best?

As parents, we want the best for our children. We have good intentions in wanting our kids to do well in school. Sometimes we have visions of our children attending Ivy League schools or our alma mater. We may have loyalty to the school our fathers, our grandfathers, or we ourselves attended; and have expectations that our children will follow our footsteps and carry on the legacy. Pressure to get into a “good school” seems to have become increasingly higher as well in today’s day and age. We believe that if we stay on top of our children and track their performance, we will be helping them to succeed by attending the best school. By ramping up the academic pressure, we hope that this will spare our kids of future disappointment. It is important to understand that school systems are experiencing this pressure as well, which results in your child receiving more coursework than we had when we were growing up.

Unfortunately, many teens do not do well under pressure. They can begin to exhibit signs of stress and anxiety with excessive worry, burnout, lack of sleep, and change in eating habits. They begin to feel overwhelmed by the pressure of having to do well in school and to achieve perfect grades. Many check their online portals daily for updates on their grades. If the grade is an A, they feel good. If the grade is less than an A, there is much disappointment, sadness, poor self-image, and loathing. The grade begins to determine their self-worth. They think they’re only as good as the grade they received. It is our job as parents to look out for these signs in our children and support a positive self-image and worth, independent of their school performance. As parents, we want to promote an appropriate level of autonomy for our children.

It’s best to encourage your teen to make his or her own choices while helping them think through consequences of different decisions. Even a simple daily reminder of asking about homework, tests, projects, etc., can promote dependency and not independence. By doing this, our message is: “Without me, you cannot do this”. When we are overly invested in our kids’ performance, they are less likely to develop their own motivation and confidence and rely heavily on us. Making academic decisions for your teen does not allow them to be self reliant or have their own voice in the future.

As parents, we want to reduce pressure and allow our kids to make their own choices and learn from their mistakes. Jumping in to rescue them relieves you of your anxiety— not theirs. They cannot learn natural consequences if we are fixing and micromanaging them. Be supportive— not intrusive or overly involved— and you’ll see worthwhile results. It may take some time especially if they have been dependent on you in making their decisions. Please note; however, that there are times when it is most appropriate to intervene, based on your child’s needs and stage of development. As a parent, it is ultimately your call to use your best judgment.

At The Hellenic Therapy Center, 567 Park Avenue, Scotch Plains, New Jersey, we have a team of licensed clinicians available day, evening and weekend hours. Visit us at, on Facebook, or call 908-322-0112.

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