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Parents want to give their children every opportunity possible, believing that it will enrich their lives and enable them to succeed. However, a new study challenges that mindset.

The study, led by Arizona State University professor Suniya Luthar, is a follow-up to her previous research which examined the psychiatric risks associated with growing up in poverty. Her more recent study focuses on children and adolescents who grow up in financial comfort.

Economically privileged young people experience a tremendous amount of pressure to achieve and succeed. That pressure, according to Luthar, triggers a notable amount of emotional disturbance. She found that young people from homes earning $160,000 or more per year are two times more likely than the national standard to experience anxiety or depression.

According to the study well-to-do parents that provide opportunities to their children expect to see academic success and stellar achievements in extra-curricular activities. These activities could be athletic or cultural, but the bottom line is that parents are looking for a pay-off on their investment and kids feel the pressure.

Instructors, coaches and others echo this high expectation, but it’s parents who create the greatest amount of stress for young people. While moms and dads are looking for signs that all those hours of piano lessons, soccer practice and prestigious schooling are about to deliver, their kids are delaying successful transition into adulthood.

With fewer entry-level positions available in the job market, and many putting off commitments such as marriage and family, the measures that defined a safe landing in the adult world have changed over the past couple of decades. In the interim between high school and careers, some choose to continue education due to a lack of clear direction.

Young people aware that they aren’t living up to their parents’ expectations are struggling with eating disorders, substance abuse and self-injury. Sports and the arts offer natural antidotes to depression and anxiety, but when they become measuring rods for success, young people feel helpless with nowhere to turn. Feeling trapped in their shortcomings creates a serious hurdle to mental and emotional wellness.

Despite the stress of growing up in affluence, the psychiatric risks of growing up in poverty are far worse, according to Luthar. Young people from impoverished homes face the greatest mental health risks. Nonetheless, she hopes that well-to-do parents will take heed. Pushing kids to achieve and over-achieve can backfire. Even when a child has been given all the opportunities money can buy, they can shut down and suffer if they feel that parental love and approval are tied to measurable successes. Offer kids opportunities, she says, but ease up on the pressure.


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