Perfectionism among young people is a real problem — but there is something YOU can do, parents.
I attended an event last year that brought to light the story of a few teens that had committed suicide recently in our town. These kids were all straight-A students, captains of their sports team (or heavily involved in sports), came from loving families, and highly admired pupils by both teachers and peers.
And as I sat and listened with tears in my eyes, I couldn't help but ask myself—but why?
Why were these kids committing suicide? They had everything. Didn't they?
I continued to listen as I realized the entire point was made by interviewing and asking KIDS what they thought about the matter—not psychologists, counselors, or parents.
The kids interviewed were asked the question, "why do you think these kids committed suicide?"
Their answer, "They were expected to be perfect—by their teachers, their parents, and their peers.”
Kids have more pressure academically, socially, and behaviorally than ever before. In a recent study called "Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time" we find that teens and young people are more burdened than ever by pressure from others, and that includes parents.
More often than not, with the knowledge of such devastation, we attempt to make sense of it, so we turn to widespread knowledge and belief like this article from Stanford University—concluding kids commit suicide because of the following reasons.
Changes in their families, such as divorce, siblings moving out, or moving to a new town
Changes in friendships
Problems in school
Or these kids are more likely to commit suicide
One or more mental or substance abuse problems
Undesirable life events such as being bullied or recent losses, such as the death of a parent
Family history of mental or substance abuse problems
Family history of suicide
Family violence, including physical, sexual, or verbal or emotional abuse
Past suicide attempt
Gun in the home
Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as from family or peers, in the news, or fiction stories
If you think your child is at risk, call this number.
Suicide prevention lifeline
And as I believe these are valid and true common denominators, I can't but help bring to light what I heard at this event—the expectation of perfection, which is nowhere mentioned above but a very real problem kids are facing today.
I often write throughout my articles about the importance of parental influence.
We go one of two ways: Wash our hands of our child's bad behavior because they make their own choices and parents had nothing to do with it. Or we take full responsibility, assuming that any misbehavior or dysfunction from our kids lies solely on our shoulders.
We are the primary influence on our children, yes, but that doesn't make our children puppets on our hands. They will make their own choices, and rightfully so.
BUT our influence should never be underestimated. If you are expecting perfection from your child, they will also hold themselves to that same standard. And when they don't achieve that, they feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, and in some cases, brought to the point of helplessness and thoughts of suicide.
So what can we do?
Many of us are aware that our children shouldn't be expected to be perfect. But we unwittingly exacerbate our children in little ways that could very easily be mistaken for praise.
5 ways you might be unintentionally exacerbating your children
1 .You put them in an academically high standard school they are not suited for
Some kids can handle high pressures of academics, and what it has to offer—some can't.
This is where knowing your child becomes of utmost importance.
If your child is easily overwhelmed or anxious about school, this may not be the place for them. If your child is more susceptible to peer pressure and pleasing people, this may not be the place for them.
To be in tune with your child’s needs is to help them understand who they are, what their limits are, and how they can healthily apply boundaries for themselves.
If they are placed in a school that has high standards for academics, then watch them closely. There are warning signs you can look out for to discern if there needs to be changes made.
2. You Say Things like…
"My kid is getting straight A’s in every class."
Bragging to others about your child's achievements in front of them will unconsciously speak to their inner desire to please you. They LOVE it when you brag about them. But be careful as to what you brag about, and how you do it in their presence.
Living vicariously through our children can also become a burden we place on our child that is not theirs to carry.
They are their own person, and we need to allow them to see that who they are is who you love and admire, not what they do.
"You'll be okay!" or “Just power through it!” knowing full well, they are overwhelmed or exacerbated by a situation.
There are times when you should push your child and allow them to fail, but there are also times to give them a copious amount of grace, and let them off the hook.
You can help them acknowledge that they are NOT okay, and there needs to be something done about it.
3. We are unaware of what they are experiencing with social media and screen time
Along with academic pressure that young people experience from their teachers and parents, there is a very real presence of social pressure from peers.
Social media is a breeding ground for giving others perception of perfection.
At the hand of our society, we make apps that allow you to change the size of your nose, the whiteness of your teeth, and the color of your eyes.
We can cover our blemishes, imperfections, scars, and bloodshot eyes.
What kind of influence is this having on our teen's self-esteem when are allowing them to find their self-worth on Instagram or Facebook, painted in an unrealistic form?
This is where I chime in to weigh HEAVILY on you being your child's primary influence. If they can see themselves through your eyes in a positive and healthy way, they will also see themselves that way.
4. We fail to look at the big picture
I always address my faith in matters of child-rearing, so take that as you will. It's crucial for me to stress to fellow Christians that helping your child see themselves the way God sees them has a lot to do with how you see them.
God has placed you in their life not to exacerbate them, but to point them to the truth in Christ. Ephesians 6:4
You WILL fail them, so for them to see themselves the way their perfect creator sees them, as perfect and beautiful creatures of God, they won't need admiration and acceptance by the world.
They will be well on their way of a lifetime journey to finding their true identity in Christ. That is the lasting HOPE we can equip our children to see. That's the big picture.
5. Let your actions speak louder than your words
Wanting happiness for your child is not in and of itself wrong. But when we use our words as flattery or empty promises, instead of showing our children we truly admire them no matter what, we are sending the wrong message.
It's easy to say things. It's hard to do things.
Put down your phone to have a meaningful conversation with your child. Cancel and event so that you can have some one-on-one time with your teen son. Go the extra mile to show your child just how much you admire them by spending time with them.
Authentic and meaningful relationships are built upon time spent together and fostering trust within the family home.