It is widely known and discussed that youth in poverty are at great risk in areas of education, employment, and emotional and behavioral troubles. Yet, interestingly enough, it seems that those children on the other end of the spectrum, the children of affluence, are at risk too, although of a different kind. These children are increasingly struggling with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and other risky behaviors.
In an article in Psychology Today The Problem With Rich Kids, researcher Suniya Luthar discusses this phenomenon. She describes the environment of affluent children as one of “high-octane achievement.” These children strive to follow in the footsteps of their high achieving parents, which is increasingly more difficult given the recent economic difficulties of our country. These children feel pressure to excel and not just from parents but from schools, coaches, peers, and teachers. Competition hinders relationships and pushes behavior to the extreme. Dr. Luthar encourages everyone to wonder, “prestige, power, privilege – at what price?”
So what is an affluent parent to do? After all, you worked hard to achieve your goals and to provide the best possible opportunities for your children. And you want your children to excel as well. Here are some tips to mitigate the stress related to the culture of affluence.
1. Help your child set their own expectations. Ask them what goals they would like to achieve this season in soccer, what they would like to accomplish this school year, what colleges they are interested in. The area is gray between encouraging your child to strive to do better and accepting them in their current state. (More about this in a future blog). Yet it does not bode well for your teen’s emotional health if they feel (even if it is just their perceptions) that you will not love them if they do not go to an Ivy League school.
2. Listen and let your child do the talking. Again, ask questions. Do not make assumptions. Ask your teen what they thought about their performance or how they felt about that grade. I have seen teens who were traumatized by a B grade and ones who were thrilled. Ask where they felt good about their efforts and how they think they could improve. This leads to…
3. Focus on process not outcome. Encourage and praise efforts and attempts, not the final result. This builds confidence, paves the way to try new things, decreases the fear of failure, and diminishes the negative impact of criticism.
4. Be a good role model. Your children will watch and follow what you do. Demonstrate for them good sportsmanship in competition, healthy self-care, a positive self-image, a willingness to try, and strength in times of failure.
Communication really is the key in understanding where you child is feeling pressure and helping them to positively manage such experiences.