The Dangers of Putting Too Much Pressure on Kids

Don't put your child under too much pressure to succeed.
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It's healthy to want to bring out the best in your child. But sometimes, parents put children under so much pressure to perform well that their children suffer serious consequences.

Parents differ in their opinions about how much pressure kids need. In fact, a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 64% of Americans say parents aren’t putting enough pressure on children to do well in school.

When kids don't get enough pressure from parents, they may be less likely to perform at their best.

Other adults insist kids are under way too much pressure. They express concerns that kids can't be kids anymore because they're constantly pressured to perform well so they get into the most prestigious schools or get the best scholarships.

Of course, school isn’t the only place where parents put pressure on kids. Some parents put pressure on kids to perform well in sports, music, theater or a vast number of other activities. High-pressure parents may insist kids practice constantly and perform well in competitions.

While high expectations can be healthy, placing constant pressure on children can be harmful. When kids feel like each homework assignment is going to make or break their future or that each soccer game could determine if they get a college scholarship, that pressure will have negative consequences.

Here are just a few of the dangers kids may experience when parents put them under enormous amounts of pressure:

  1. Higher rates of mental illness. Kids who feel like 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.
  1. Increased risk of suicide. Studies have found a link between suicidal ideation and parental pressure. Approximately one in five of the students evaluated had contemplated suicide due to the enormous pressure from parents to produce exceptional grades.
  2. Self-esteem problems. 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.
  3. Sleep deprivation. 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.
  4. Higher risk of injuries. Athletes who feel a lot of pressure may continue to participate in sports despite injuries. Ignoring pain or returning to a sport before an injury has healed could lead to permanent damage.
  5. Increased likelihood of cheating. 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.
  6. Refusing to participate. When kids feel the goal is to always “be the best,” they’re not likely to participate when they aren’t likely to shine. A child who isn’t the fastest runner may quit playing soccer and a child who isn’t the best singer in the group may quit choir. Unfortunately, that means kids won’t take opportunities to sharpen their skills.

    Sources

    Parental Pressures and Suicidal Thoughts. The Consumer's Medical Journal. 2003;(85):18.

    Rogers MA, Theule J, Ryan BA, Adams GR, Keating L. Parental Involvement and Children's School Achievement: Evidence for Mediating Processes. Canadian Journal of School Psychology. 2009;24(1):34-57. 

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