Staying Sane: Anxiety and Achievement

Keeping sane in a world where the demands and pressures from academics, sports, and socializing weigh heavily on parents and children alike, is no small task.  Sadly, the maxim that having more means wanting or needing more seems to have taken root.  It is easy enough to say to a relative or friend to pursue satisfaction from within, quite another thing to believe it yourself.


Achievement and Risk Factors

As a psychiatrist with many years of treating parents and children from high-achieving families, my observation is that if anything, life is becoming more difficult for them.  Research is now showing that children from affluent families are up to twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety than children from lower income families, along with experiencing elevated rates of substance abuse and certain delinquent behaviors.

Since anxiety and depression can be interrelated, I want to emphasize the importance of having an experienced clinician determine the proper course of therapy.  Resolving anxiety before it takes root in depression can restore—and in severe cases even save a life.

Risk and Stress

Children who have disposable income have an easier time buying drugs and alcohol, but what might be surprising to many is how many middle class and affluent children engage in more troubling behavior like stealing from friends and parents.   Parents who are under stress are prone to imposing strict conditions on their children and to reacting harshly if a disagreement occurs.

Parents can unwittingly transfer stress to their children in unassuming ways.  An insensitive comment, sneer, or dismissive reaction can be interpreted by a child as undermining their competency or value.  Some parents become caught up in social comparisons and put exceptional pressure on their adolescent children to perform in order to maintain their social standing among their peers—both parents and children.  Parents should be aware that addressing their own anxiety issues could help their entire family.

It is clear that one of the universal factors driving anxiety in children is being highly criticized by their parents. While virtually all parents want the best for their kids, the cycle of anxiety and depression sometimes can start and stop with parental criticism.  In some cases, children can even become “school-phobic,” when pressure becomes so intense they cannot even go to school.

Ideas for Easing Anxiety

Get back to first principles.  Everyone thrives by sharing responsibility and having a basic understanding of the foundation of family life.  Creating a list of household chores, engaging in community service together, limiting screen time, and having family meals are ways to get connected.  Sometimes deemphasizing overwhelming activities like sports and parties can also be appropriate, depending on your child.  A parent who pushes a child to play a sport because a classmate does it or it seems like the right thing to do, should take a step back and focus on their child and their desire to play and practice.  Consider too that perhaps your vision of where your child goes to secondary school or college might not jibe with theirs.

If your child has difficulty articulating the cause of their anxiety, consider engaging in an activity with them.  Boys in particular respond more freely when they are doing something active like tossing a football around.

If you would like to discuss anxiety or any other mental health challenges, please call me at (917) 609-4990 or email me at for general questions.

Be Well,

Dr. Amanda Itzkoff

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