Kids who think they’re poorer than their peers can suffer mental health issues

Kids who think they’re poorer than their peers can suffer mental health issues

Perceived poverty can take a toll.

It’s not an uncommon scene: it seems that all your friends have the newest brand name sneakers and you don’t. Or, maybe it looks like everyone has the right logo on their t-shirt and you feel your family will never be able to afford this. Feeling poorer than the others around you at any age can cause negative feelings to surface. When it happens in childhood, the feelings of poverty can leave a long-lasting impression. 

Feelings of poverty linked to wellbeing

A study done by psychologists at the University of Cambridge found that exactly how rich or poor a young person thinks they are in comparison with their peer group is linked to their overall wellbeing and self esteem in the shift between childhood to teenage years. Feeling poor was also linked to an increase in bullying. Those youth who considered themselves to be both poorer and richer than others were found to be more likely to bully others. 

“Adolescence is an age of transitions, when we use social comparisons to make self-judgments and develop our sense of self,” said the study’s lead author Blanca Piera Pi-Sunyer.   

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Piera Pi-Sunyer is a Cambridge Gates Scholar and PhD candidate in the University’s Department of Psychology. She went onto add that a person’s sense of economic position in their immediate environment and wider society can be problematic when it comes to feelings of belonging.

Kids who considered themselves to be poorer than the others in the study were more likely to suffer from anxiety and show behavioral  problems such as anger issues or being hyperactive. This same group was said to be 17% more likely to report being bullied at age 11. It’s a trend researchers feel needs more attention than it might be getting. 

It’s all in your head

When it comes to feeling like you fit it, the study showed that actual wealth wasn’t the issue. It’s how the children felt they compared to their peers. 

“You do not have to be rich or poor to feel richer or poorer than your friends, and we can see this affects the mental health of young adolescents,” said  Piera Pi-Sunyer.

So what’s the ticket? Going to the mall to purchase the latest trend in fashion might not be the right fix.

Having an open conversation with youth about their feelings can help. Research has found that group discussions with peers can be effective at helping youth feel connected. When individuals can share their problems or feelings with others who are similar to them, it becomes clear that others in the same group may feel the same way and that they are not alone. These types of “community circle” conversations can help address feelings of inadequacy and not belonging, especially in younger years. Classrooms that implement this approach can see a decrease in conflicts over time, researchers say.

While it’s a small step to take, it’s a start in the need to help youth feel better adjusted.  

For more on this study in particular, click here. 

photo credits: LStockStudio/

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