- Is perfectionism and the pressures of daily life controlling your teen?
- Does your teen have difficulties starting or completing a new task for fear that he or she will fail?
- Is your teen struggling with schoolwork or participating in their after-school or athletic activities?
For many teenagers in our society, aiming for perfection and the overwhelming fear of failure is an unfortunate reality. Unlike “high-achievers,” many teens will often set lofty goals and assume complete failure if the goal isn’t met with sheer precision and perfection. These teens run the risk of constant disappointment, which can lead to the development of anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, eating disorders, and potential family and peer conflict. In order to mitigate the potential effects of perfectionism, consider the following strategies to help your teen find more balance in their daily life:
1) Promote Hard Work Rather Than Perfectionism
Encourage your teenager to consider goals that feel realistic and manageable, while still aiming for a challenge. It can be helpful to have conversations at the start of the new school year with your teen about his or her expectations and goals they have in mind. This can be a great opportunity to help your teen modify or eliminate goals that may be too overwhelming, such as participating three honors classes. Instead, encourage your teen to participate in one advanced class so they are able to dedicate their time to a challenge while also finding time for self-care, social events, and after-school sports and activities.
2) Defeat Negative Patterns of Thinking
Perfectionism is often associated with negative and self-defeating thoughts. These irrational thoughts will only exacerbate your teen’s anxiety and make it more challenging to find small successes and confidence within themselves. Teens will often use “all of nothing” thinking (such as failure or perfection) or engage in “catastrophic thinking” (a small mistake or error on a test will predict an “F” in the class). Encourage your teen to use a basic Cognitive Behavior Therapy technique called cognitive restructuring, where he or she can reframe or challenge the irrational thoughts. Help your teen to replace the irrational thought with a more positive thought or fact that is more grounded in reality. For example, we can change “I failed my science quiz and I’m going to fail the class” to “I didn’t do my best on this quiz, but I have many opportunities to ask my teacher for and the remainder of the semester to work hard.”
3) Cope with Stress and Anxiety in Healthy Ways
Foster a safe space for your teen to express their emotions and talk about their stressors. Often times, having an outlet and using healthy emotional expression skills can drastically reduce the pressures and anxiety your teen is experiencing. Encourage your teen to cope in positive and healthy ways, rather than internalizing and shutting down, Avoid negative coping skills such as immersing themselves in screens and electronics or napping to avoid the stress. Validate your teen’s concerns and anxieties while also challenging him or her to cope in healthy ways. This will look different for each teenage but can include playing sports or talking with his or her peers, listening to music, going for a run, journaling, drawing or even downloading a breathing or guided mediation app on their smartphone.
Talk with your teen about how he or she can view mistakes as opportunities to learn rather than total failures. Model positive self-talk and encourage your teen to “aim high” without resorting to perfectionism and self-defeating patterns of thinking in their academic and social worlds.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” – J. K. Rowling