Youth in high-achieving schools (HASs) are now declared to be an “at-risk group,” largely because of strong, ongoing pressures to achieve. In this study, we sought to disentangle processes that might underlie how achievement pressures might exacerbate distress, considering five dimensions conceptually important in HAS settings: feelings of envy, comparisons with others on social media, negative feedback from others, the ability to maintain supportive friendships with peers, and overall time pressures. Also included were two potential confounds: time spent on social media and attachment to parents. Across three different HAS samples (total N = 1608), these dimensions were examined in relation to anxious-depressed, withdrawn-depressed, and somatic symptoms, and rule-breaking behaviors using multivariate analyses conducted separately by school and gender. Results revealed that associations between social comparisons and internalizing symptoms were consistent in all subgroups, with robust effect sizes throughout. Additionally, negative feedback on social media was linked with rule-breaking behavior in five out of six subgroups. Results indicated the critical value of targeting social comparisons, in particular, followed by negative feedback on social media in future interventions aimed at fostering resilient adaptation among HAS youth.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. (2001). Manual for the ASEBA school-age forms & profiles: an integrated system of multi-informant assessment. Burlington, VT.
Albdour, M., Hong, J. S., Lewin, L., & Yarandi, H. (2019). The impact of cyberbullying on physical and psychological health of Arab American adolescents. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 21(4), 706–715.
Appel, H., Gerlach, A. L., & Crusius, J. (2016). The interplay between Facebook use, social comparison, envy, and depression. Current Opinion in Psychology, 9, 44–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.10.006.
Aubrey, A., & Greenhalgh, J. (2018). The perils of pushing kids too hard, and how parents can learn to back off. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/06/11/616900580/back-off-how-to-get-out-of-the-high-pressure-parenting-trap.
Barry, C. T., Sidoti, C. L., Briggs, S. M., Reiter, S. R., & Lindsey, R. A. (2017). Adolescent social media use and mental health from adolescent and parent perspectives. Journal of Adolescence, 61, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.08.005.
Beauchaine, T. P., Zisner, A. R., & Sauder, C. L. (2017). Trait impulsivity and the externalizing spectrum. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 13(1), 343–368. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-021815-093253.
Becker, M., & Neumann, M. (2018). Longitudinal big-fish-little-pond effects on academic self-concept development during the transition from elementary to secondary schooling. Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(6), 882–897. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000233.
Bor, W., Dean, A. J., Najman, J., & Hayatbakhsh, R. (2014). Are child and adolescent mental health problems increasing in the 21st century? A systematic review. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 48(7), 606–616. https://doi.org/10.1177/0004867414533834.
Burrow, A. L., & Rainone, N. (2017). How many likes did I get?: purpose moderates links between positive social media feedback and self-esteem. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 69, 232–236. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2016.09.005.
Cramer, E. M., Song, H., & Drent, A. M. (2016). Social comparison on Facebook: motivation, affective consequences, self-esteem, and Facebook fatigue. Computers in Human Behavior, 64(C), 739–746. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.07.049.
Denizet-Lewis, B. (2017). Why are more American teenagers than ever suffering from severe anxiety? New York Times Magazine. Retrived from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-american-teenagers-than-ever-suffering-from-severe-anxiety.html?mwrsm=Facebook&_r=0.
DeWall, C. N., & Bushman, B. J. (2011). Social acceptance and rejection: the sweet and the bitter. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(4), 256–260.
Fang, J., Huang, X., Zhang, M., Huang, F., Li, Z., & Yuan, Q. (2018). The big-fish-little-pond effect on academic self-concept: a meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1569–1569. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01569.
Fardouly, J., & Vartanian, L. R. (2015). Negative comparisons about one’s appearance mediate the relationship between Facebook usage and body image concerns. Body Image, 12, 82–88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.10.004.
Flannery, D. J., Todres, J., Bradshaw, C. P., Amar, A. F., Graham, S., Hatzenbuehler, M., ... & Le Menestrel, S. M. (2016). Bullying prevention: a summary of the report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Prevention Science, 17(8), 1044–1053. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-016-0722-8.
Fox, J., & Moreland, J. J. (2015). The dark side of social networking sites: an exploration of the relational and psychological stressors associated with Facebook use and affordances. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 168–176.
Furman, W., & Buhrmester, D. (1985). Children’s perceptions of the qualities of sibling relationships. Child Development, 56(2), 448–461. https://doi.org/10.2307/1129733.
Gao, S., Assink, M., Liu, T., Chan, K. L., & Ip, P. (2019). Associations between rejection sensitivity, aggression, and victimization: a meta-analytic review. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838019833005.
Geisz, M. B., & Nakashian, M. (2018). Adolescent wellness: current perspectives and future opportunities in research, policy, and practice. Unpublished report, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Retrived from https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2018/06/inspiring-and-powering-the-future%2D%2Da-new-view-of-adolescence.html
Gorrese, A., & Ruggieri, R. (2012). Peer attachment: a meta-analytic review of gender and age differences and associations with parent attachment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(5), 650–672. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-012-9759-6.
Greenberg, M. T., & Armsden, G. (2009). Inventory of parent and peer attachment (IPPA). Prevention Research Center.
Hanley, S. M., Watt, S. E., & Coventry, W. (2019). Taking a break: the effect of taking a vacation from Facebook and Instagram on subjective well-being. PLoS One, 14(6), e0217743–e0217743. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0217743.
Hawi, N. S., & Samaha, M. (2017). The relations among social media addiction, self-esteem, and life satisfaction in university students. Social Science Computer Review, 35(5), 576–586. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894439316660340.
Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No more FOMO: limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751–768. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751.
IBM Corp. (2017). IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, version 25.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp.
Johnson, S. L., Tharp, J. A., Peckham, A. D., Carver, C. S., & Haase, C. M. (2017). A path model of different forms of impulsivity with externalizing and internalizing psychopathology: towards greater specificity. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56(3), 235–252. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjc.12135.
Kawabata, Y., & Tseng, W. L. (2019). Relational and physical victimization, friendship, and social and school adjustment in Taiwan. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(6), 1559–1578. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407518767771.
Li, C., Sun, Y., Ho, M. Y., You, J., Shaver, P. R., & Wang, Z. (2016). State narcissism and aggression: the mediating roles of anger and hostile attributional bias. Aggressive Behavior, 42(4), 333–345. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.21629.
Lin, L. Y., Sidani, J. E., Shensa, A., Radovic, A., Miller, E., Colditz, J. B., Hoffman, B. L., Giles, L. M., & Primack, B. A. (2016). Association between social media use and depression among U.S. young adults. Depression and Anxiety, 33(4), 323–331. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22466.
Luthar, S. S., Barkin, S. H., & Crossman, E. J. (2013). “I can, therefore I must”: fragility in the upper-middle classes. Development and Psychopathology, 25(4pt2), 1529–1549.
Luthar, S. S., & Ciciolla, L. (2015). Who mothers mommy? Factors that contribute to mothers’ well-being. Developmental Psychology, 51(12), 1812–1823. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000051.
Luthar, S. S., & Eisenberg, N. (2017). Resilient adaptation among at-risk children: harnessing science toward maximizing salutary environments. Child Development, 88(2), 337–349. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12737.
Luthar, S. S., & Kumar, N. L. (2018). Youth in high-achieving schools: challenges to mental health and directions for evidence-based interventions. In Handbook of school-based mental health promotion (pp. 441–458). Springer, Cham.
Luthar, S., Kumar, N., & Zillmer, N. (2019). High-achieving schools connote risks for adolescents: problems documented, processes implicated, and directions for interventions. American Psychologist, Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000556
Luthar, S. S., Kumar, N. L., & Zillmer, N. (2020). Teachers’ responsibilities for students’ mental health: Challenges in high achieving schools. International Journal of School & Educational Psychology, 8, 119–130. https://doi.org/10.1080/21683603.2019.1694112.
Lyman, E. L., & Luthar, S. S. (2014). Further evidence on the “costs of privilege”: perfectionism in high-achieving youth at socioeconomic extremes. Psychology in the Schools, 51(9), 913–930. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.21791.
Malonda, E., Llorca, A., Mesurado, B., Samper, P., & Mestre, M. V. (2019). Parents or peers? Predictors of prosocial behavior and aggression: a longitudinal study. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 2379. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02379.
Maner, J. K. (2014). Let’s put our money where our mouth is: if authors are to change their ways, reviewers (and editors) must change with them. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(3), 343–351. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691614528215.
Masten, A. S., & Tellegen, A. (2012). Resilience in developmental psychopathology: contributions of the project competence longitudinal study. Development and Psychopathology, 24(2), 345–361. https://doi.org/10.1017/S095457941200003X.
Morris, A. S., Criss, M. M., Silk, J. S., & Houltberg, B. J. (2017). The impact of parenting on emotion regulation during childhood and adolescence. Child Development Perspectives, 11(4), 233–238.
Murray-Close, D., Holterman, L. A., Breslend, N. L., & Sullivan, A. (2017). Psychophysiology of proactive and reactive relational aggression. Biological Psychology, 130, 77–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2017.10.005.
National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). (2019). Vibrant and healthy kids: aligning science, practice, and policy to advance health equity. doi:https://doi.org/10.17226/25466
Odgers, C. L., & Jensen, M. R. (2020). Annual research review: adolescent mental health in the digital age: facts, fears, and future directions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 61(3), 336–348. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13190.
Olweus, D., & Limber, S. P. (2010). Bullying in school: evaluation and dissemination of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(1), 124–134. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-0025.2010.01015.x.
Pater, J. A., Kim, M. K., Mynatt, E. D., & Fiesler, C. (2016). Characterizations of online harassment: comparing policies across social media platforms. In Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Supporting Group Work (pp. 369–374). doi:https://doi.org/10.1145/2957276.2957297.
Pera, A. (2018). Psychopathological processes involved in social comparison, depression, and envy on Facebook. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 22. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00022.
Pittman, M., & Reich, B. (2016). Social media and loneliness: why an Instagram picture may be worth more than a thousand Twitter words. Computers in Human Behavior, 62(C), 155–167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.03.084.
Rathmann, K., Bilz, L., Hurrelmann, K., Kiess, W., & Richter, M. (2018). Is being a “small fish in a big pond” bad for students’ psychosomatic health? A multilevel study on the role of class-level school performance. BMC Public Health, 18(1), 1098. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-018-5977-5.
Riehm, K. E., Feder, K. A., Tormohlen, K. N., Crum, R. M., Young, A. S., Green, K. M., Pacek, L. R., la Flair, L. N., & Mojtabai, R. (2019). Associations between time spent using social media and internalizing and externalizing problems among US youth. JAMA Psychiatry, 76(12), 1266–1273. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.2325.
Rodman, A. M., Powers, K. E., & Somerville, L. H. (2017). Development of self-protective biases in response to social evaluative feedback. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(50), 13158–13163. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1712398114.
Schacter, H. L., & Juvonen, J. (2019). When do friendships help versus hurt? Perceived best friend victimization and support as moderators of peer victimization-related distress. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 1–24. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0272431619874402.
Sheldon, K., & Hoon, T. (2007). The multiple determination of well-being: independent effects of positive traits, needs, goals, selves, social supports, and cultural contexts. An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being, 8(4), 565–592. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-006-9031-4.
Smith, A. P. (2019). Student workload, wellbeing and academic attainment. In International Symposium on Human Mental Workload: Models and Applications (pp. 35–47). Springer, Cham.
Smith, R. H., & Kim, S. H. (2007). Comprehending envy. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 46–64. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.46.
Stroebe, W., & Strack, F. (2014). The alleged crisis and the illusion of exact replication. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(1), 59–71. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691613514450.
Szabo, A., Ward, C., & Fletcher, G. J. (2019). Stress appraisal, information processing strategies, and somatic symptoms: a longitudinal study with immigrants. Journal of Health Psychology, 24(5), 650–660. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105316678306.
Turel, O., & Serenko, A. (2012). The benefits and dangers of enjoyment with social networking websites. European Journal of Information Systems, 21(5), 512–528. https://doi.org/10.1057/ejis.2012.1.
Twenge, J. M., Martin, G. N., & Spitzberg, B. H. (2018). Trends in U.S. adolescents’ media use, 1976–2016: the rise of digital media, the decline of TV, and the (near) demise of print. Psychology of Popular Media Culture., 8, 329–345. https://doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000203.
Twenge, J. M., Spitzberg, B. H., & Campbell, W. K. (2019). Less in-person social interaction with peers among U.S. adolescents in the 21st century and links to loneliness. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(6), 1892–1913. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407519836170.
Van Harmelen, A. L., Kievit, R. A., Ioannidis, K., Neufeld, S., Jones, P. B., Bullmore, E., … & NSPN Consortium. (2017). Adolescent friendships predict later resilient functioning across psychosocial domains in a healthy community cohort. Psychological Medicine, 47(13), 2312–2322. doi:https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291717000836.
Vogel, E. A., Rose, J. P., Roberts, L. R., & Eckles, K. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 3(4), 206–222. https://doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000047.
Vosgerau, J., Simonsohn, U., Nelson, L. D., & Simmons, J. P. (2019). 99% impossible: a valid, or falsifiable, internal meta-analysis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 148(9), 1628–1639. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000663.
Webber, R. (2017). The comparison trap. Psychology today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201711/the-comparison-trap
Yates, T. M., Egeland, B., & Sroufe, L. A. (2003). Rethinking resilience: a developmental process perspective. Resilience and vulnerability: adaptation in the context of childhood adversities, 243, 266.
The authors gratefully acknowledge support provided by Authentic Connections.
About this article
Cite this article
Luthar, S.S., Suh, B.C., Ebbert, A.M. et al. Students in High-Achieving Schools: Perils of Pressures to Be “Standouts”. ADV RES SCI 1, 135–147 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42844-020-00009-3