Pressure to Be Cool May Harm Children’s Mental Health

Lonely girl excluded from group of childrenPressure to be cool by owning the “right” things and looking the “right” way can damage children’s mental health, according to research presented at a British Psychological Society conference. Children attempt to fit in, the study’s authors say, because they may think it will help them make more friends and improve their self-image. But valuing materialism and worrying about looks may actually worsen children’s well-being.

Pressure to Fit In: Damaging to Children?

Researchers followed more than 1,000 children between the ages of 8 and 14 for three years. They found that children who did not fit in were more likely to value consumer culture. Kids who fixated on owning the “right” things and looking the “right” way experienced a worsening of their friendships with peers over time. Their well-being also plummeted.

Researchers also uncovered a discrepancy between what children thought would help them fit in and what actually worked. Friendly, helpful children were more likely to be popular, but many children mistakenly believed being disruptive was a more direct route to being liked.

Kids who struggled to fit in adopted different strategies to cope with the stress. Boys often became more materialistic, while girls were more likely to fixate on their appearance.

Helping Kids Feel Good About Themselves

The latest study points to a vicious cycle among children who believe they do not fit in: kids rely on consumerist coping strategies, but those strategies can make them feel worse over time, causing more struggles with peers.

Emily Kircher-Morris, LPC, a Georgia therapist who treats children and adolescents, said that kids are vulnerable to the belief that outside approval is the key to happiness.

“Kids and teens are especially susceptible to falling into the trap of mistaking outside approval for true self-esteem,” she said. “They often don’t understand that when they engage in activities that fulfill their own interests, they will feel more confident compared to the constant battle for peer approval. Due to their youth, these kids and teens are especially fragile when it comes to their mental health. By encouraging teens to seek out peers with similar interests and to develop friendships more naturally, adults can help to prevent the downward cycle of anxiety and depression triggered by peer rejection.”

Earlier research suggests the pressure to fit in does not only affect children during their formative years. A 2014 study found that children who fixated on impressing their peers in adolescence were more likely to experience substance abuse issues, relationship difficulties, and brushes with the law in adulthood.

References:

  1. Allen, J. P., Schad, M. M., Oudekerk, B., & Chango, J. (2014). What ever happened to the “cool” kids? Long-term sequelae of early adolescent pseudomature behavior. Child Development. doi:10.1111/cdev.12250
  2. Need to be cool and look good detrimental to many kids. (2015, September 14). Retrieved from http://www.bps.org.uk/news/pressure-be-cool-detrimental-many-children
  3. The psychological cost of cool. (2015, September 11). Retrieved from http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/the-psychological-cost-of-cool-150911.htm

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  • samantha

    samantha

    September 23rd, 2015 at 2:30 PM

    I used to think that we had it bad in middle and high school but the kids today have it so much worse then we ever did. Think about all of the mediums of information that they have access to, for better or for worse, and so many more ways to come in harm’s way. Sort of makes you wish for simpler times, but I k now that now there will never be any going back.

  • Reese

    Reese

    September 24th, 2015 at 7:40 AM

    When did we start teaching kids that the cool thing to be was “cool” and not just being a good human being to others? I know that in some ways it has always been like this, the desire to be popular in school. But I think that there are more and more people feeding into that craze now than ever before and it has become worse with this tendency that some parents have to try to live vicariously through their children.

  • Ethan

    Ethan

    September 24th, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    Even as an adult I find that there are times when I still feel around certain people that nothing that I ever do will allow me to measure up to them. I am not sure why I still have all of these insecurities because I would hope that by the time I have grown up then I could let some of them go but they are still there lurking at times. I know that if I have a hard time with this myself at times then kids must really struggle to figure out who they are and how they can fit into the crowd at school.

  • SILAS

    SILAS

    September 25th, 2015 at 8:30 AM

    I want for my kids to fulfill their own dreams, and not to really give a you know what about what they think others want them to do.

  • Alexa

    Alexa

    September 25th, 2015 at 1:07 PM

    It all seems like there is just too much going on these days so it is no wonder that so many kids are stressed out and anxious all of the time.

    I know that I would be if I was their age because there is just so much pressure to be cool, to be smart, be involved, be perfect… and that is all just so unattainable for most of us.

  • Danielle A

    Danielle A

    September 27th, 2015 at 7:42 AM

    If parents would start more kids off on the right foot and stress the important things in life, then there wouldn’t be so many who get so hung up on the unimportant material things.

  • tracey

    tracey

    September 28th, 2015 at 10:25 AM

    goodness, it does in some ways make you yearn for the good old days when things were just a little more simple than they are now

  • eleanor

    eleanor

    September 29th, 2015 at 10:41 AM

    There are so many wonderful things about being a kid today and then there are so many bad things too. There has to be some weight given to everything and you as a family have to be able to find a balance for them home. I think that it is important for kids to feel like they fit in with the other kids at school but it is also important for them to know that fitting in and being cool often has very little to do with “things”. We should as a whole promote more of a nurturing environment so that more children start to see for sure that it is not what is outside that counts, but instead what is inside that makes you a really cool person.

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