Rising Parental Expectations Related to Mental Health Problems Among College Students: Study

An increase in parental expectations and criticism is linked to adverse mental health consequences in college students, according to a recent study. The research results were published in the journal “Physiological Bulletin”.

The researchers analyzed data from more than 20,000 American, British and Canadian university students. They pointed out that the younger generation’s perceptions of parental expectations and critics have arisen over the past 32 years and are linked to an increase in their perfectionism.

“Perfectionism contributes to a variety of psychological conditions, including depression, self-harm, anxiety, and eating disorders,” said Thomas Curran, the study’s lead researcher and assistant professor of psychological and behavioral sciences at the University. London School of Economics and Political Science.

Study co-author Andrew P. Hill, a professor of sport and exercise psychology at York St John’s University, said “the pressure to conform to perfect ideals has never been greater. large and could be the basis of an imminent public health problem”. “

Perfectionists become more neurotic

Perfectionism often becomes a permanent character trait, and previous research has shown that perfectionists become more neurotic and less conscientious as they age. Moreover, perfectionism can be perpetuated across generations, with perfectionist parents raising perfectionist children, ANI reported.

Previously, Curran and Hill found that three types of perfectionism were increasing among young people in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. They suspected that one of the causes could be that the parents become more controlling and anxious.

The first meta-analysis included 21 studies with data from over 7,000 students. Parental criticisms and expectations had moderate associations with self- and other-oriented perfectionism and a large association with socially prescribed perfectionism.

Self-focused perfectionism involves perfectionist standards about the self. Other-oriented perfectionism is outward-looking perfectionism, where someone expects others to be perfectionists. Socially prescribed perfectionism is the perception that others and society demand perfection. The three types of perfectionism overlap and can exacerbate each other’s effects in negative ways.

Parents’ expectations have a greater impact

Parental expectations had a more significant impact than parental criticism on self- and other-oriented perfectionism, so parental expectations may be more damaging than parental criticism.

“Parental expectations have a high cost when they are perceived as excessive,” Curran said. “Young people internalize these expectations and depend on them for their self-esteem. When they don’t meet them, as they invariably will, they will criticize themselves for not matching. They strive to be perfect to compensate” , he added. .

Self-focused perfectionism was greater among American university students than among British or Canadian students, possibly due to more intense academic competition in the United States.

“These trends could help explain the increase in mental health problems among young adults and suggest that they will only get worse in the future,” Hill said. “It is normal for parents to worry about their children, but this anxiety is interpreted as pressure to be perfect,” he added.

The second meta-analysis included 84 studies conducted between 1989 and 2021 with 23,975 students. Parental expectations, criticism and combined parental pressure have increased over these 32 years, with parental expectations increasing at the fastest rate. “The rate of increase in young people’s perceptions of their parents’ expectations is remarkable,” an average increase of 40% from 1989, Curran said.

The studies were conducted in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, so the results cannot be generalized to other cultures. The research is correlational, so it cannot prove that rising parental expectations or criticism caused an increase in perfectionism in students, only that there is a connection between them.

However, according to the authors, research suggests bothersome changes over time. “So what are parents supposed to do? They are not to blame as they react anxiously to a hyper-competitive environment with fierce academic pressures, rampant inequality and technological innovations including social media that propagate unrealistic ideals about how we should appear and perform. . “, added Curran.

“Parents place excessive expectations on their children because they think society demands it or their children will fall down the social ladder,” he pointed out. “Ultimately, it’s not about recalibrating parental expectations. It’s about society – our education system, our economy and the supposed meritocracy – recognizing that the pressures we put on the younger generation and their families are needlessly overwhelming,” the researcher said.

Parents can help their children deal with societal pressures in healthy ways by teaching them that imperfection or failure is a normal and natural part of life, Curran said. “Focusing on learning and development, not test scores or social media, helps young people develop healthy self-esteem that is not dependent on validation from others or external metrics,” said he concluded.

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