For years the top three risk factors for mental health conditions in youth have been the same. Poverty, racism and discrimination. A new study spanning decades has revealed another environmental risk factor: pressure to excel in high-achieving high schools.
Pressure to succeed in school may not appear as such a high-risk factor of developing mental health condition as being the victim of racism or discrimination but years of study show that it can be.
A study was conducted out of Arizona State University which investigated if the quality of the relationship between a parent and child influences the mental health of a youth in a high-achieving school.
The researchers gathered data used in a previous long-term study out of the New England Study of Suburban Youth. Most of the students in this study came from good homes where both parents were still around, were educated and were in a professional job. The study spanned several years and included 262 children. Each year a different group of youths were asked to complete a questionnaire to evaluate their mental health and the quality of their relationships with other people. The researchers for the recent study focused only on the students’ relationship with their parents and their mental health.
The original study lasted seven years and involved students at several different ages to compare changes from early years of school to the final years where stress can build. The factors used to determine the quality of the relationship students had with their parents were: if they felt disconnected from their parents, how much trust they felt, and how well they could communicate with their parents.
Surveys which measure depressive and anxious symptoms were taken by the students in their final year of school to evaluate their overall mental health.
The sixth grade is where students started to report an increased disconnection from their parents. Over the next couple of years, they reported feeling more separated from both parents and the levels of trust and quality of communication deteriorated.
This is nothing new, as it is well documented that children in their preteen years start to want more independence. Often during this stage parents will let their child have more space as they become more independent. However, this can be viewed as the parent losing interest in them which can cause mental health problems.
The researchers wanted to identify if the children’s changes in trust and communication with their parents had an impact on their development. They checked to see if what the children were reporting could be used to predict depressive or anxious symptoms before they finished school.
Higher levels of anxiety in grade 12 students were linked to an increase in feeling alienated by both parents and a loss of trust from them. Depressive symptoms in the same students were predicted by an increase in alienation and a decrease in trust from just the mothers, not both parents.
After the study one of the researchers claimed this is the reason why it is important for parents to constantly work to maintain a close and supportive relationship with their children, even if the child at any age appears to be growing distant.
A teenager growing apart from their parents is often a natural part of life and not something personal. Parents need to remain a source of support and the main point of positive influence in their child’s life.
Arizona State University
Pedersen, T. (2018). Parent-Child Bond Tied to Mental Health of Teens in High-Achieving Schools. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2018/10/29/parent-child-bond-tied-to-mental-health-of-teens-in-high-achieving-schools/139911.html