As parents, we all set out to be close with our children - always. As they start to grow though, it's very apparent that that closeness is much easier whenever they are little and yearning for morning cuddles and still need our assurance as they start making decisions. Then, when they reach those tween and teen years, there is a very apparent pull away where they want to start being more independent, making their own decisions, and mom and dad just aren't cool anymore. It's a cycle of sorts that might differ from child to child, but it still very present in most cases. A new study though has outlined that keeping this connection and bond is even more important than ever, as it could mean the difference between your child having depression and anxiety if they attend a high-achieving school.
Researchers from Arizona State University have looked into this concept and the findings are quite interesting. The data shows that the bond you have with your child can quite literally mean the difference between them thriving in their teenage years and a struggle with mental health and even substance abuse.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is an influential philanthropic organization that focuses on health. They recently published their yearly report on adolescent wellness that focused on risk factors for adolescents. The top three were poverty, racism, and discrimination, which have topped the list for many years.
However, the 2018 report included a new factor: ongoing pressures to excel that occur in high-achieving schools in mostly affluent communities. While attending a high-achieving school might not seem as risky as living in poverty or facing racism or discrimination, decades of research has shown that in fact, it is.
To conduct their research, they looked at data from the New England Study of Suburban Youth (NESSY), a long-term study of adolescents led by Luthar, Foundation Professor of Psychology at ASU and co-author on the paper. The 262 students participating mostly came from two-parent families where the parents were white-collar professionals and well-educated. Each school year the NESSY participants completed questionnaires that included measures of their mental health and assessed the quality of their relationships.
Sixth grade was when the children reported a growing disconnect with their parents. During the middle school years, the participants indicated increases in feelings of alienation from both parents and that the levels of trust and quality of communication decreased.
While their tendency to pull away from their parents was associated with normal adolescence happens, there was also a natural inclination of parents is to give their child space to navigate independence. However, this response is what leads to more everyday problems. Moral of the story: if you have teens and tweens, stay connected.