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The children of rich parents are put under so much pressure to succeed they are at an increased risk of suffering of mental illness, a study has claimed.
Scientists found that children from homes with an annual income of more than £100,000 a-year were suffering anxiety and depression at twice the normal rate of their less well off peers.
Researchers found issues such as eating disorders, drug abuse, neuroses and self harming were soaring among wealthy teenagers.
It is thought the relentless pressure being piled on youngsters both at school and in extra-curricular activities is leading to increased feelings of vulnerability.
The American psychologist who carried out the study said many children were finding it impossible to live up to the expectations being placed on them by their rich and successful parents.
Suniya Luthar said parents often wanted too much from their children, but pressures were also being applied by schools, sports coaches and even their own friends. Miss Luthar said: “The evidence suggests that the privileged young are much more vulnerable than in previous generations. I have spent the last decade researching why this is the case. The evidence points to one cause: the pressure for high octane achievement.”
Pressure can begin at quite a young age with competition for school places and testing at primary level forcing children to recognise the need for success, early on. The desire to secure a place at a top university only increases the academic stresses placed on youngsters, but pressures are now also being applied in activities that were supposed to be fun.
Overly competitive parents are piling extra pressure on their children to succeed on the sports field, in the gym and in activities such as music lessons.
Miss Luthar, from Arizona State University has published her findings in the Journal of Development and Psychopathology and also in Psychology Today.
In the Psychology Today article, she wrote: “Studies show that on average, serious levels of depression, anxiety or somatic [physical] symptoms occur twice as often among these [wealthier] boys and girls compared to national rates.”
Describing where the pressure came from she explained: “Some comes from the families. There are high pressure traps that white-collar parents more than others, can fall into. “The first is excessive emphasis on children’s accomplishments … too often what parents want is over the top.”
She added: “Parents however, are but one part of the equation. Impossibly high expectations are transmitted not only by parents but by the entire community – teachers, schools, coaches and peers.”
Professor Tanya Byron, who has a clinic in London where she treats young people with a whole range of issues, recently said pupils at some of the country’s leading schools had so much expectation that they were becoming school-phobic.
She said the cycle of constant exams and targets was leaving some children “shattered by fear of failure”.
Professor Byron said she was treating more and more, young people for anorexia, depression and self harming than ever before.
She said: “I see children who become school-phobics, the fear of failure becomes so intense they cannot cope with even going to school.”
Despite the findings, children from the poorest families experience the highest rates of mental illness.