Academic pressure in children and young people
- By Dr. Ramya Mohan
Understandably, parents, educators and politicians consider this topic a high priority. Exam preparatory businesses are found in every street and parents are willing to invest huge amounts of money to further their child's education.
Another result, though, is childhood and teenage stress and anxiety. Signs of anxiety from too much pressure to succeed at school may show itself in sleep disturbances, erratic/poor eating, low mood, excessive worrying, low confidence levels and fear of failure - all eventually heading towards premature burnout.
Younger children may experience nightmares, show bad behaviors or refuse to go to school. Teens may engage in destructive behaviors like drinking or drugs. They may struggle to concentrate or lose interest in their day-to-day activities and hobbies. They may gradually withdraw and isolate themselves.
Anxiety and stress maybe linked to queasy tummies, headaches, and flaring up of skin conditions like rashes and eczema.
The school and college admissions process has become more difficult than ever before. Competition is fierce. Many apply to a handful of good institutions hoping to get a much-wanted place. The stress does not stop after the exams - the wait for a decision is excruciating. Only a small proportion of eligible candidates succeed. Rejection can feel devastating. Highly capable and hardworking young people who spend many hours studying and preparing for assignments and exams, find the whole experience undermining and frustrating. Increasing external pressure from competitive peers, higher thresholds of parental expectations in a fast-paced world and the increasingly selective, goal-based focus of educational institutions will not feel supportive to a fragile child.
Education should lead us from darkness to light. However, high and unrealistic expectations from parents and schools can affect a child's overall development. Whilst there is evidence that the parent's role supports or facilitates the child's achievements, there have also been concerns that a parent with unrealistic expectations can create unnecessary pressure - this worsens stress and fosters performance anxiety in children. Schools may put pressure on parents and the child to ensure that the child is meeting school targets and is not deficient in any area, rather than understanding that every child has a different potential and ability to manage stress.
Children may perform better at school and feel more confident about themselves if they are told that failure is a normal part of learning, rather than being pressured to succeed at all costs, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association (2012).
Recognizing this key concept and intervening early is vital. Parents and teachers need to communicate better with each other and the child. Understanding the child's strengths and interests but accepting the child's limitations at the same time is important. Supporting the child's efforts and self-esteem is the surest way to motivate them in a healthy manner. A simple conversation at the end of the day about how things are going on and giving positive feedback on the child’s efforts go a long way.
Where degrees and educational attainments are seen as the passport to financial success, are we losing sight of educating minds and supporting children’s emotional, psychological, social and spiritual growth potential?