Parents With Fancy Degrees May Have More Stressed-Out Kids, Study Finds

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Group of Graduates Smiling For a Photo

Parents may think that, by having a college degree, they're setting their children up for success. But according to new research, there may be an unlikely side effect of having college-educated parents: more stress upon entering school.

While starting college can be stressful for any new student, research by the University of Bern in Switzerland and the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany has found starting college is particularly stressful for kids coming from homes where parents have a university degree themselves.

Stressful expectations.

The goal of the research was to determine whether educational backgrounds in the family would affect stress levels of teens entering college. To do this, researchers examined strands of hair from 71 young women. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can accumulate in hair when levels are high for an extended period of time.

Participants filled out questionnaires about things like stress and their parents' education levels, plus gave three strands of hair for the team to study. By looking at the most recent hair growth, the researchers could get a good sense of the individual's stress levels in recent weeks since the new semester had begun.

The results showed having at least one parent with a university degree is associated with more stress for first-year college students.

Why? The study's co-authors, Alex Bertrams, Ph.D., and Nina Minkley, Ph.D., believe it comes down to maintaining the social status of your family. Those with college-educated parents may feel extra pressure to "keep the ball rolling," so to speak, where those whose parents do not have degrees feel like there's simply less to lose. "Individuals from non-academic families are particularly unstressed because they (and their families, respectively) can only gain (but not lose) an academic status," they write in the paper on their findings.

Interestingly, other studies have echoed similar findings, with children from academic households going to college even if their performance in high school wasn't exemplary, coming back to the idea of pressure and expectations.

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Relieving the pressure on our kids.

It's no secret that stress can cause a lot of issues for physical and mental health, but understanding the underlying causes behind stress makes it that much easier to deal with. These findings are an important reminder for parents to be conscious of putting too much pressure on their kids, particularly as it relates to academic achievement.

If you sense your child is feeling the pressure of doing well in school, having an open dialogue about self-worth as it relates to achievement could be just the reassurance they need. How can you help your child feel validated and confident in themselves regardless of their external successes? Even simply letting them know you are proud of them, no matter what, could help alleviate some of their worries.

These conversations may be particularly important to have for parents who themselves have academic degrees. Even if your kid is nowhere near college age, starting the conversation about achievement and self-worth early on can help set them up for optimal well-being as they get older.

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