Survey Details What Parents Want Most for Their Children

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A new survey gauges parents’ top concerns about their children. juanma hache/Getty Images
  • A new survey is shedding light on parents’ concerns and hopes for their children as they grow up.
  • In the report, parents were most concerned about their children’s mental health, financial stability, and job satisfaction.
  • Things such as marriage, having children, and going to college were not as high on the parental wish list.

Parents are concerned about their children’s mental health, financial stability, and job satisfaction, but they are less concerned about other markers of life success such as marriage, having children, or going to college, a new survey from the Pew Research Center suggests.

In the survey of 3,700 parents, 4 in 10 said they were extremely or very worried about their children struggling with anxiety or depression, with their kids being bullied being their next biggest concern.

On the other side of the spectrum, parents were least concerned with their children getting in trouble with the police — 67% said they were “not too” or “not at all” worried — while 54% said they were not worried about their kids getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant as a teen.

Given the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, a focus on mental health in this survey isn’t shocking, said Joseph Galasso, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and chief executive officer of Baker Street Behavioral Health.

“We have just endured an unprecedented shift in how we experience our daily lives and the level of control we have felt we have had over them for the past few years,” Galasso told Healthline. “As such, I believe this level of concern is likely an upward trend from historical data. However, it is clearly correlated with the pandemic we have been enduring. We have seen a very real increase in our physical practice over the past few years in service utilization by children and teens.”

Courtney Conley, EdD, a parenting coach in Maryland, agreed.

“Studies have found that the prevalence of mental health issues among adolescents has been on the rise, with rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers increasing at a faster rate than in adults,” she told Healthline. “Given the rise in mental health concerns among young people, it makes sense that it would be of increasing concern to parents.”

Since mental health presented such a significant concern among parents, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a vast majority of parents (88%) say their children’s financial stability and job satisfaction as adults are very or extremely important to them, the survey found.

This compares to 21% and 20%, respectively, who say it’s essential their kids get married or have children when they grow up.

“I think this speaks to changes in societal expectations and values, which I attribute in part to the pandemic,” Conley said. “Being forced to slow down and pivot as a society created a mental shift for people. Once people were removed from stressful, demanding, and unfulfilling work environments, it was difficult for them to return. We are starting to move away from the ‘hustle’ culture and place more emphasis on wellbeing and balance.”

“This is a positive shift considering the impact stress has on our well-being and mental health,” she added. “It’s great that people want stability and satisfaction for their children. Having one without the other will create an imbalance that leads to discontentment.”

Among other values, parents also rated most highly that their children were honest and ethical (94% said it was extremely or very important) over other factors like sharing the same religious beliefs (35%) or political beliefs (16%).

While job and financial success was a strong hope across the board for parents, ensuring their kids get a college degree was much less so.

Only 4 in 10 parents said their kids’ earning a college degree is very important to them.

“It’s not surprising that parents are thinking outside of the college degree, as more and more young people are increasingly skeptical of the high school-to-college route and desire more flexible postsecondary education pathways,” said Jean Eddy, chief executive officer of the nonprofit career planning company American Student Assistance.

“In the spring of 2022, there were 662,000 fewer students enrolled in undergraduate programs compared to the previous year, and a recent study found that just 53 percent of today’s high schoolers say they are likely to attend college,” Eddy told Healthline.

And where college was once seen as a primary pathway to career success, there are signs that thinking is changing, too.

“A recent study commissioned by American Student Assistance and Jobs for the Future and conducted by Morning Consult found that 81 percent of employers now think they should look at skills rather than degrees when hiring,” she noted.

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