Date of Award

Spring 5-20-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Marcia Martin, PhD

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Applegate, PhD


The demands and expectations placed on many high school students in affluent communities require almost impossible performance levels, or even perfection, and parents, peers, high school teachers, counselors, and administrators, as well as others in affluent communities, become increasingly invested in the quest for success demonstrated by high level performance and achievement. As a result, students in affluent communities are vulnerable to experiencing extreme pressure to succeed as demonstrated by gaining admittance to a “good college.” This dissertation utilizes the foundational aspects of attachment theory to provide a framework for understanding how individuals in affluent communities develop a strong attachment relationship to a socially constructed idea of “success.” The strength of the attachment relationship precludes parents from recognizing or acknowledging that the push for success becomes a risk factor for their children. The ongoing pressure to perform at extreme levels interferes with adolescent identity formation, promotes perfectionistic tendencies and contributes to other difficulties in healthy development. This dissertation asserts that the persistence of high level stress throughout the high school years impacts the adolescent brain, creates an environment of “toxic stress,” and causes serious health and mental problems, including suicide, for adolescents living in affluent communities.