As a parent, you want your child to have goals and strive for excellence in all aspects of their life. Whether it’s earning good grades, excelling at a particular sport, or setting their sights on a promising career, you want them to have ambitious standards and do their best to meet those expectations.
However, while promoting perfectionism in your child can help them achieve more, it can also have a detrimental mental and physical effect.
According to clinical research, 25 to 30 percent of America’s teenagers suffer from what is called “maladaptive perfectionism” in which they are striving for unrealistic perfection to a degree that causes them pain. In fact, it is estimated that perfectionism in children and teens has increased by 33 percent over the last three decades.
The epidemic of teenage perfectionism is rampant in many American communities, including those closer to home in North Metro Atlanta communities such as Milton, Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Sandy Springs, Buckhead, and Dunwoody.
In many cases, there is a genetic component to maladaptive perfectionism that is reinforced by behavior learned from parents who are also perfectionists. However, many other perfectionist teens are influenced by societal and environmental factors, such as:
- Greater competition for admission to top colleges
- The skyrocketing costs of education lead to an urgency to get scholarships
- A controlling parenting style at home
- Comparison culture promoted by social media
The Consequences of Toxic Perfectionism
There is a difference between healthy striving and toxic perfectionism. The latter manifests itself in three ways:
- Self-oriented perfectionism, in which the teenager strives to meet unrealistically high standards they have set for themselves, leads to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and/or burnout.
- Socially prescribed perfectionism, in which the teenager strives to meet the unrealistically high standards they think other people (parents, coaches, teachers) expect of them.
- Other-oriented perfectionism, in which the teen holds others to unrealistically high standards, which can lead to blame, lack of trust, cynicism, loneliness, relationship problems, and/or narcissism.
Toxic perfectionism can also trigger physical effects, such as chronic stress, digestive problems, headaches or migraines, and sleep disorders. In extreme cases, toxic perfectionism can even lead to suicidal behavior.
Signs of Perfectionism in Your Teenager
It is important to note that perfectionism is not a mental health disorder, but a personality trait. As such, there are no psychological symptoms. However, it may be evident in the following signs:
- Your teen is having trouble completing assignments because they think their work is never good enough.
- They exhibit intense anxiety when faced with the possibility of failure.
- They are highly sensitive to criticism.
- They become extremely frustrated when a mistake is made.
- They procrastinate to avoid difficult tasks.
- They are self-critical, self-conscious, and easily embarrassed.
- They find it difficult to make decisions and prioritize tasks.
- They are extremely critical of others.
How to Help a Teen with Perfectionism
There are many ways a parent can support their teenager to avoid toxic perfectionism, including:
- Educating them about the hazards of a rigidly critical mindset and their negative view of mistakes. Instead, teach them to replace their self-criticism with self-compassion.
- Helping them stay focused on controlling their attitude, effort, and actions. Help them realize that many aspects of success and failure are beyond one’s personal control.
- Being a model of acceptance and flexibility. Don’t be too rigid in your expectations. Be empathetic toward your child and willing to modify your hopes and plans for them if your aspirations are not serving their best interest.
- Enlisting professional help. One of the most effective approaches to helping a teenager with perfectionism is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which addresses distorted thinking and the underlying signs of perfectionism. A professional therapist can assess your child and help uncover the root cause of their perfectionism.
Experienced Therapists in Atlanta and Alpharetta, GA
At Atlanta Specialized Care, we support teens in exploring their passions and strengths in order to find self-worth that doesn’t depend on the opinions of others. With the help of our board-certified therapists, teens learn healthy coping mechanisms to increase their distress tolerance and find the benefits in mistakes and “failures.”
If you think perfectionism is impacting your child’s mental health, contact us today to learn about our tailored treatment approach and our family-focused philosophy of care.
Our therapists at Atlanta Specialized Care have years of experience treating children and adolescents dealing with a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues, including toxic perfectionism.
More insight into the teenage perfectionism crisis can be found in The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine and the documentary, The Race to Nowhere, which is available online. For more information about adolescent therapy at our Atlanta or Alpharetta offices, call Atlanta Specialized Care at (770) 815-6853. You may also use our online form to request an appointment.