Achievement vs Happiness

As a parent, what would you rate most important in your children’s educational experience? Their happiness? Or their success within the classroom and the grades written on a piece of paper?

According to a recent survey, the biggest worry for most parents is the academic achievements of their children rather than their personal wellbeing.

The findings show that, of 1,000 parents, 52 percent put their children’s progress as their top concern. Just under 50 percent highlighted bullying and unhappiness as a high priority issue.

Tim Morfin, Chief Executive of TLG, said it is natural for parents to want to be assured their children were keeping up with their peers.[1] At many schools, parents can track their children’s progress online, which could lead to them being over-informed and becoming obsessive with regards to achievement. As a consequence, children could put pressure on themselves to do well so as not to disappoint their parents.

According to a motherhood blog, parents are aware it is much more difficult to get into higher education nowadays, adding: “By ramping up the academic pressure, [parents] are hoping to spare their children the disappointment and feelings of failure that may come along with not getting into a college or university.”[2]

Taking the above reasons into account, parental pressure appears justified and, in actual fact, parents are putting their children’s happiness and wellbeing first, albeit in the long-term.

However, should a parents wish for their child to achieve success come at the price of their mental wellbeing? Particularly during a time when the number of children and young people who suffer with mental health issues is on the rise.

According to the DfE, which spoke to 30,000 pupils aged 14-15, more than one in three teenage girls experience symptoms of anxiety or depression – a rise of ten percent in the past decade.

Out of the girls surveyed, 37 percent had three or more symptoms of psychological distress, for example the inability to concentrate, an inability to sleep and feeling worthless.

Clinical psychologist, Dr Rachel Andrew, spoke about the pressures pupils are under and how this contributes to a child’s mental health state as well as their experience at school.

She added: “Girls describe feeling under enormous pressure to achieve academically, some of which comes from families of high-achievers and increased awareness through social media about how tough it is out there in the job market, getting on the property ladder and earning a good salary.”

The study noted that pressure to achieve left many feeling not in control of their future, and pupils with parents who have been educated to degree level were 5 percent more likely to experience mental distress than those without.

Possible solutions

The issue of applying too much pressure on your children can be solved with a few changes at home. Firstly, avoid putting extra emphasis on grades and academic performance, and instead focus on setting achievable goals with your child.

Secondly, set a good example for your child by showing them you are happy and that success in life is subjective. According to a lifestyle blog, titled ‘5 signs you’re a high-pressure parent’, part of being a good role model is showing your child that you partake in doing things you love. It is also important to show your child how you work hard to achieve your own personal goals in life and how good this makes you feel about yourself.

According to the original survey, bullying and wellbeing amongst children and young people is still a high priority concern (48 percent of those surveyed put it as a top priority). This would suggest that most parents are concerned by their child’s wellbeing above achievement at school; however, the initial wording of the survey could have been misleading, and that the term ‘progress’ could be inclusive of academic and personal achievement.

As a final note, more responsibility could be placed on schools to ensure they are not applying pressure directly on parents. Perhaps the communication between schools and parents is achievement-oriented because a school’s success is predominantly judged by the standard of the grades. Instead, parent-school interaction could be more centred around discussing ways to ensure children are happy and not under strenuous amounts of pressure from either parties.

Mr Morfin added: “We wouldn’t say this is a call for more communication from schools around progress. It’s about asking if we have created anxiety levels in parents by saying that education is all about Year 6 SATs or GCSE results.

“What we have learned over our 18 years of supporting children in schools is that, typically, wherever there is a struggling child there is often a struggling family or a parent who is anxious and concerned.

“School is a challenge for many parents, and working out how to best support their children is a conundrum.”

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